Gestational hypertension, also commonly called pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH), is often defined as any high blood pressure that develops during pregnancy. This relatively common complication develops in approximately 6-10% of pregnant women. Risks are higher for first time pregnancies, multiple gestation pregnancies, women over 40, and women with a family history of PIH.
High blood pressure during pregnancy can be one of three main types:
Chronic hypertension: Elevated blood pressure (over 140/90) that was present before pregnancy, develops before week 20, or persists after birth.
Gestational hypertension: High blood pressure that develops after week 20 of pregnancy and resolves after birth. In many women, this type of hypertension occurs in the last few weeks of pregnancy, close to the due date.
Preeclampsia (also called toxemia or pregnancy-induced hypertension): In this potentially more severe condition, elevated blood pressure is often accompanied by swelling and protein in the urine. Preeclampsia can cause major complications in mother and baby and requires regular medical attention.
Any high blood pressure in pregnancy is of concern because it can prevent the placenta from receiving adequate blood flow. Without enough blood, the placenta can’t give the growing fetus enough oxygen and nutrients. As a result, women may deliver low birth weight and/or premature babies.
Preeclampsia, if untreated, also carries a risk of seizure for the mother and a risk of death for both mother and baby. However, doctors carefully monitor pregnant women for any signs of the disease. Blood pressure and urine are checked at every prenatal visit. If blood pressure is elevated, the doctor may also perform blood work as well as an ultrasound to check the baby’s growth. Medications can be prescribed if swelling and protein in the urine indicate a progression to preeclampsia.
The only true cure for gestational hypertension is to deliver the baby. If your blood pressure becomes elevated late in the third trimester, your doctor may recommend inducing labor early. Hypertension that occurs earlier in pregnancy must be assessed to determine if it would be safer for the baby to be born early versus managing the hypertension until full-term.
While gestational hypertension can be a worrying condition for a mother-to-be, the great news is that Chinese medicine can safely lower blood pressure in pregnancy. Regular acupuncture treatments, combined with Chinese herbs and nutritional suggestions when appropriate, are a very valuable tool for keeping blood pressure at or near normal until your baby is born. If you’re struggling with high blood pressure in pregnancy, contact the specialists at TCRA to learn more about how we can support your pregnancy with Chinese medicine.