High blood pressure: A risk factor for preeclampsia

May 31, 2019

According to the American Heart Association (also called the AHA), about 103 million adults in the United States have high blood pressure. That’s nearly half of all adults in the U.S. Although high blood pressure is a common health condition in this country, many people don’t know they have it. This can be especially dangerous for women who are pregnant or thinking of getting pregnant. That’s because high blood pressure is a risk factor for a serious health condition called preeclampsia.

What is high blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the force of blood that pushes against the walls of your arteries. Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood away from your heart to other parts of the body. If the pressure in your arteries becomes too high, you have high blood pressure (also called hypertension). High blood pressure can put extra stress on your heart and kidneys. This can lead to heart disease, kidney disease and stroke.

To learn more about what a healthy and unhealthy blood pressure is, check out this chart from the AHA.

What kinds of high blood pressure can affect pregnancy?

Two kinds of high blood pressure can happen during pregnancy:

  • Chronic hypertension. This is high blood pressure that you have before you get pregnant or that develops before 20 weeks of pregnancy. It doesn’t go away once you give birth.

  • Gestational hypertension. This is high blood pressure that only pregnant women can get. It starts after 20 weeks of pregnancy and goes away after you give birth.


At each prenatal care visit our provider checks your blood pressure and urine. But if you have chronic hypertension you may need to check your blood pressure at home, too. Your provider may use ultrasound and fetal heart rate testing to check your baby’s growth and health. He also checks for signs of preeclampsia, which include sudden weight gain, swelling in the hands, legs or face, and protein in your urine.

Do all women with high blood pressure get preeclampsia?

No, but having high blood pressure increases your risk for preeclampsia. About 1 in 4 women with chronic hypertension (25 percent) has preeclampsia during pregnancy. Gestational hypertension usually causes a small rise in blood pressure, but some women develop severe hypertension and may be at risk for preeclampsia. If you’re at high risk for preeclampsia, your provider may treat you with low-dose aspirin to help prevent it.

How can you manage high blood pressure before and during pregnancy?

If you were taking medicine for chronic hypertension before pregnancy, talk to your provider to make sure it’s safe to take during pregnancy. If it’s not, he can switch you to a safer medicine.

Although we don’t know how to prevent gestational hypertension, some things put you at higher risk of getting it. If you’re overweight or obese, getting to a healthy weight before pregnancy may lower your chances of having this condition. During pregnancy you can:


  • Go to all your prenatal care checkups, even if you’re feeling fine.

  • Eat healthy foods. Don’t eat foods that are high in salt, like soup and canned foods. They can increase your blood pressure.

  • Stay active. Being active for 30 minutes each day can help you manage your weight, reduce stress and prevent problems like preeclampsia. Talk to your health care provider about activities that are safe to do during pregnancy.

  • Don’t smoke, drink alcohol or use street drugs or abuse prescription drugs.