Pregnancy-Induced Hypertension: Causes, Symptoms and Prevention Tips

Feeling nauseated, having diarrhea, or having lower back pain because of your big uterus? Get pregnant, and you might feel that your body isn’t yours anymore, with all the changes going on in your body. One word you might want to add to your vocabulary is “pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH)”. Let’s see what it is, what the causes or the symptoms are, what treatment methods are available, the prevention tips, and if there is a need to be hospitalized when you’re diagnosed with PIH.

What is pregnancy-induced hypertension? Is it different from preeclampsia?

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First, what is pregnancy-induced hypertension? Pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH), also known as gestational hypertension, refers to the condition of getting high blood pressure during the course of pregnancy. This could, in turn, lead to proteinuria (excess of proteins in urine) or vascular lesions. Pregnancy-induced hypertension, when accompanied by proteinuria, can develop into preeclampsia.

If pregnancy-induced hypertension worsens and becomes preeclampsia, this can threaten the lives of both the mother and the baby. According to the National Institute of Health, the exact number of women who develop preeclampsia is not known, but it is believed that about 5-10% of pregnancies globally and about 3-5% of all pregnancies in the United States are affected by preeclampsia.1Formerly known as “toxemia of pregnancy”, preeclampsia also used to be called the “first pregnancy disease” as first-time moms are at higher risk of getting it.

Causes of pregnancy-induced hypertension and the type of moms who are more at risk

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Although the changes that arise in one’s body during pregnancy might make one predisposed to pregnancy-induced hypertension, there are other factors that can make some mothers more at risk than others.

  • Age: Below 15, above 40

  • Weight: BMI of above 25

  • Complications like chronic hypertension (high blood pressure before pregnancy), hypothyroidism, diabetes

  • Family history of preeclampsia (mother had gestational diabetes or preeclampsia before)

  • Being a first-time mom

  • Having multiples

  • Having had a molar pregnancy before

The symptoms of pregnancy-induced hypertension

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Some of the symptoms of pregnancy-induced hypertension are as follows: high blood pressure, headache, dizziness, fatigue, an increase in blood pressure, blurred vision, nausea, or edema.

One sign you can be on the lookout for is edema. Sudden swelling in the face, hands and feet are a possible sign that you’re not looking at normal edema but a symptom of pregnancy-induced hypertension.

If pregnancy-induced hypertension worsens and becomes preeclampsia or eclampsia, it could lead to other complications like eclamptic seizures, placental abruption (the premature separation of the placenta from the uterus), hemorrhage, pulmonary edema, reduced in function of the liver and kidneys.

The check-ups at your practitioner’s will tell you if you have high blood pressure and if you’re at risk of getting pregnancy-induced hypertension.

What are the effects of pregnancy-induced hypertension on the baby?

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In the third trimester of pregnancy, the fetus requires more blood in order to be able to grow, and your body will respond to your baby’s needs by producing more blood – about 1.5 times the original amount of blood in your body! A mom with pregnancy-induced hypertension has poor blood circulation, which causes a decrease in the amount of oxygen going to the fetus and could result in intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) or the arrested development of the fetus. When the fetus is unable to develop well, this could lead to a low birth weight baby or damage to the brain due to birth asphyxia.

Can pregnancy-induced hypertension be treated through changes in the diet?

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The “cure” of pregnancy-induced hypertension is usually the end of pregnancy. However, if the pregnancy has not yet reached Week 34, termination of the pregnancy or a birth isn’t recommended as the baby isn’t yet ready to be born. If possible, pregnancy should be prolonged and extended until it reaches term (Week 37). There is a need to monitor the fetus’ development and the mother’s condition and come to a decision favorable to both.

If the mother only has mild pregnancy-induced hypertension, there is no need for emergency treatment; mild pregnancy-induced hypertension can be treated through changes in the diet. Salt intake contributes to high blood pressure, so aim to have a salt intake of no more than 2,300 mg a day,2and a protein intake of “your own weight x 1g”. Also, if you have mild pregnancy-induced hypertension, plan your meals so that three meals a day will help you get the daily calories recommended to you by your practitioner. You might want to ask your practitioner about antihypertensive drugs that help to reduce high blood pressure, or magnesium sulfate to prevent eclamptic seizures from happening.

If the symptoms of preeclampsia take a turn for the better, then it’s alright to give birth sometime between Week 38 and Week 40. However, if the mother has severe preeclampsia, the practitioner might recommend a delivery via a caesarean section if the mother or the baby is in immediate danger, even though the pregnancy might not have reached term (Week 37).

Is hospitalization necessary for pregnancy-induced hypertension?

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If the pregnancy-induced hypertension is classified as severe, there is a need for the mother to be hospitalized. Through changes to the mother’s diet and medicine, the mother’s condition will be monitored and the right treatment administered.

In the case of severe pregnancy-induced hypertension, the mother’s safety is prioritized and even if the pregnancy hasn’t yet reached term, labor might be induced. If preeclampsia is already severe or is progressively becoming worse, then a serious talk with your partner and the practitioner to decide what to do is necessary.

Prevention tips for pregnancy-induced hypertension?

The reasons why some moms get preeclampsia aren’t known, so there aren’t any foolproof prevention tips available. However, from what is known about preeclampsia, obesity or high blood pressure are precursors to gestational hypertension, which can lead to preeclampsia. You never know how one health complication can lead to another, so if you don’t have a healthy range BMI, you might want to start thinking about how you can lead a healthier lifestyle, especially when not only your life but your baby’s as well, hangs in the balance.

Every meal counts, so try to have meals that are balanced in terms of nutrients. Plan to have sufficient sleep and exercise in order to stay healthy. If you have symptoms of high blood pressure, please get yourself checked at the hospital right away!

Preventing pregnancy-induced hypertension starts today

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The cliché “dieting starts tomorrow” must go out of the window. If you’re struggling with weight problems and a high blood pressure, you must start today! Even if you’re healthy and seem to be worlds apart from being at risk of getting high blood pressure, you are not completely free from the risk of getting pregnancy-induced hypertension or preeclampsia.

Severe preeclampsia is indeed a very serious and scary condition, so guard yourself well by going to check ups regularly and that itself will tell you if you’re at risk or not, reducing the risk of preeclampsia worsening without you even knowing you have it. Try to have as healthy a lifestyle as you can and remember! Tomorrow waits for no mom, so don’t start dieting tomorrow. If you want to get your act together and become healthier, you only have the present!