High blood pressure & pregnancy – the facts

by Anna-Bet Stemmet
High Blood Pressure & Pregnancy - what you need to know
Reading Time: 4 minutes

High blood pressure is something that most pregnant women are concerned about. Read our beginner’s guide to identifying and managing hypertension and easy ways to keep your health in check during pregnancy.

High blood pressure is a common medical condition that can lead to serious health problems such as heart disease, stroke, and kidney damage. Let’s take a look at the causes, prevention, symptoms, and treatment options for high blood pressure. By understanding this condition, you can take steps to manage your health and reduce your risk of developing related health issues, especially during pregnancy.

What causes high blood pressure?

According to a study published in the South African Medical Journal in 2021, the prevalence of hypertension (high blood pressure) in South Africa is estimated to be around 40%, affecting both men and women equally. The study also found that hypertension is more common in older individuals and those who are overweight or obese.

There are several factors that can contribute to high blood pressure, including genetics, unhealthy lifestyle choices, and underlying medical conditions. Most cases of high blood pressure have no specific cause and are classified as primary or essential hypertension. However, it is important to note that certain risk factors, such as smoking and obesity, can increase the likelihood of developing high blood pressure.

Can high blood pressure develop suddenly in pregnancy?

Yes, high blood pressure can develop suddenly during pregnancy. This is known as gestational hypertension, and it can increase the risk of developing chronic hypertension later in life. Preeclampsia, a more severe form of gestational hypertension, can also occur and can lead to serious health complications for both the mother and baby.

A study published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in 2019 found that the prevalence of hypertension in pregnancy was 22.5%!  The study also found that hypertensive disorders in pregnancy were associated with adverse outcomes for both the mother and baby, including preterm birth, low birth weight, and perinatal mortality.

This is why it is so important for pregnant women to monitor their blood pressure regularly and seek medical attention if they experience any concerning symptoms.

What are the signs and symptoms of high blood pressure?

High blood pressure is often referred to as the “silent killer” because it often has no noticeable symptoms. However, in some cases, individuals may experience symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, or chest pain. If left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to serious health complications. That’s why it’s important to have your blood pressure checked regularly, especially if you have any risk factors for the condition.

How is high blood pressure treated once it presents?

Treatment options for high blood pressure include lifestyle modifications and medication. Lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet, regular exercise, and stress management can help lower blood pressure. If necessary, medications such as diuretics, ACE inhibitors, or calcium channel blockers may also be prescribed. It is important to work closely with a healthcare provider to determine the most appropriate treatment plan.

What can I do to prevent high blood pressure?

There are several lifestyle changes that can help prevent high blood pressure, including maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise, reducing sodium intake, and limiting alcohol consumption. Additionally, quitting smoking and managing stress levels can also contribute to overall cardiovascular health. Making these changes can not only help prevent high blood pressure but can also improve overall health and wellbeing.

Below is an example of a healthy meal plan for a pregnant woman who wants to keep her blood pressure in check. The focus should be on nutrient-dense foods, adequate protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates while limiting processed and high-sodium foods.

Breakfast:

  • 1 slice of whole-grain toast with avocado or peanut butter
  • 1 boiled egg
  • 1 small orange
  • 1 cup of rooibos tea

Mid-morning snack:

  • 1 small plain yogurt
  • 1 small apple

Lunch:

  • Baked sweet potato topped with canned tuna and mixed vegetables
  • 1 small banana
  • 1 cup of water

Mid-afternoon snack:

  • 1 small carrot
  • 1 tablespoon of hummus

Dinner:

  • Boiled brown rice with stir-fried vegetables and grilled chicken breast
  • 1 small pear
  • 1 cup of water

Evening snack:

  • 1 small peach or other fruit
  • 1 tablespoon of peanut butter

By using affordable foods like brown rice, sweet potatoes, canned tuna, eggs, and vegetables, this meal plan can be cost-effective and provide the necessary nutrients for a healthy pregnancy. Always remember that it is important to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new dietary or exercise regimen and avoid excessive sodium intake.

Exercise

Staying physically active during pregnancy can also help keep blood pressure in check and promote overall health and wellbeing as well as reduce stress levels, another contributing factor to high blood pressure.  Read more here for signs that your stress levels are too high https://www.babyyumyum.co.za/signs-your-stress-levels-are-dangerously-high/

Here are some examples of easy exercises that pregnant women can do to stay active during pregnancy:

Walking. Walking is a low-impact exercise that can be done at anytime and anywhere. It is a great way to stay active and increase cardiovascular endurance during pregnancy. Start with short walks and gradually increase the duration and intensity.

Swimming. Swimming is a low-impact exercise that can help improve cardiovascular health, muscle strength, and flexibility. It can also help reduce joint pain and swelling during pregnancy.

Prenatal yoga. Prenatal yoga is a gentle form of exercise that can help improve flexibility, strength, and balance. It can also help reduce stress and promote relaxation.

Stationary cycling. Stationary cycling is a low-impact exercise that can help improve cardiovascular health and muscle strength. It is also a great way to burn calories and maintain a healthy weight during pregnancy.

Resistance band exercises. Resistance band exercises can help strengthen muscles and improve posture. These are easy to do at home and can be modified to suit individual fitness levels.

Please remember that it is important to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new exercise regimen during pregnancy. Pregnant women should also listen to their bodies and avoid overexertion or exercises that cause discomfort.

Read  more here about managing your dental health during pregnancy
Get more info here about eye health during pregnancy

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