Pregnant? Watch for Subtle Blood Pressure Rises


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New study findings about blood pressure during pregnancy

Pregnant women experience a number of changes linked to their pregnancies. But in some cases, pregnancy can reveal hidden health issues such as high blood pressure and cholesterol that could lead to more serious heart problems.

A recent international study from the American Heart Association’s journal Hypertension shows that pregnant women with prehypertension, a condition in which blood pressure is in the upper ranges (120/80 to 139/89) of what is considered normal, have a 6.5 times greater chance of developing metabolic syndrome after giving birth.

Understanding metabolic syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a name for a group of conditions that raise your risks for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other issues. A person with metabolic syndrome has three or more of the following conditions:

  • Abdominal obesity (waist size of 40 inches or above for men and 35 inches or above in women)
  • High triglyceride levels (150 mg/dL or greater)
  • Lower HDL cholesterol (less than 40 mg/dL in men or less than 50 mg/dL in women)
  • Higher systolic blood pressure (130 mm Hg or greater) and diastolic blood pressure (85 mm Hg or greater)
  • Blood glucose of 100 mg/dL or greater

“Anything that helps us to predict heart disease, which is the number one cause of death in women, will help us to prevent it,” said Kimberly Carter, MD, a Ascension Seton obgyn. “Knowing that a patient has a higher risk than average for heart disease should spur a provider to look at lab results and encourage behaviors that will reduce the risks to the patient.”

The study followed 507 Chinese pregnant women with no previous history of high blood pressure, high cholesterol or high blood sugar. Researchers measured the women’s blood pressure during the course of their pregnancies. In addition, participants had their blood sugar and cholesterol levels checked at the start of the study, before and after giving birth, and every few months during the next 1.6 years after giving birth.

Based on blood pressure measurements, the study showed that:

  • 34 percent of the pregnant women remained on the lower end of the normal range.
  • 52 percent were at the mid-point of the normal range.
  • 13 percent were at the higher end of the normal range.

What does this mean for pregnant women?

Pregnant women shouldn’t ignore blood pressure in the higher levels of the normal range because it’s possible that it could eventually lead to high blood pressure and more serious issues such as heart disease, heart attack or stroke.

Also, pregnant women with prehypertension face a greater risk of damaging their kidneys and other organs. Since blood pressure can affect the placenta, which supplies blood and nutrients to the baby, it can also increase the risk of giving birth to an underweight baby.

Who is at risk for prehypertension?

Prehypertension is not common among most healthy pregnant women. However, those who carry a higher risk of developing prehypertension may be overweight or obese prior to pregnancy, have diabetes or pre-diabetes, or high cholesterol.

“Anyone at risk for metabolic syndrome should be screened on a yearly basis, and should be counseled on adopting lifestyle modifications early and prior to the onset of lab abnormalities or disease,” said Carter.

Preventing blood pressure problems during pregnancy

The good news is that prehypertension can be prevented. Women can keep their hearts healthy during their pregnancy by taking some simple steps, including:

  • Receiving early and regular care from your doctor
  • Keeping your pregnancy weight gain within the recommended guidelines
  • Regularly checking your blood pressure to make sure you stay within the lower end of the normal range
  • Drinking at least eight glasses of water per day
  • Limiting your salt intake
  • Exercising per your doctor’s instructions

Learn more about staying healthy during your pregnancy at