High blood pressure (medical term is hypertension) is a serious health problem for both men and women, but unlike men, three out of four women actually know they have it – that is the good news. The bad news is less than one in three will take the necessary steps to control their blood pressure.

Although many women who have blood pressure problems have healthy babies, A hypertensive pregnancy poses a serious risk. Pregnant women who have uncontrolled hypertension may have critical issues develop during the pregnancy that may affect the mother and fetus. These problems may be preceded or lessened by discussing them with the doctor before pregnancy. If the high blood pressure of the mother is chronic, steps can be taken to help less the complications that may develop during the pregnancy. Pregnant or not, the important first step is to get the blood pressure under control.

Sometimes, problems will develop during the course of the pregnancy, this is known as “gestational hypertension”. The problems associated with pregnancy and hypertension range from mild to severe and should be taken very seriously. The kidneys and other organs of the mother may be harmed by the increased blood pressure. The fetus is also affected with a low birth rate and potential early delivery. The most serious cases cause the mother to develop a complication called “preeclampsia” also known as “toxemia of pregnancy”. This particular complication is a life-threatening situation for both the mother and fetus.

Preeclampsia is a conditionrought about by the increase in the mother's blood pressure and protein found in the urine. The protein in the urine is the result of her kidney problems caused by the hypertension. Toxemia of pregnancy generally develops after the 20th week and not only affects the mother's brain, liver and kidney, but it also affects the placenta. Thus, the complications from toxemia of pregnancy not only include premature birth and low birth weight, but also stillbirth.

“Toxemia of pregnancy” may also cause seizures in the mother and when this happens, it is called “eclampsia”. In the United States, these seizures are the second leading cause of death of the mother. There is no way to prevent preeclampsia and the only cure is to deliver the baby. It is critical for women who have a problem with hypertension to talk to their doctor before they get pregnant, or, as soon they find out they are pregnant.

The following women may be at risk of developing “Toxemia of pregnancy”: women previously diagnosed with hypertension, developed preeclampsia during the early stages of a previous pregnancy, are obese, under age 20 and over age 40 when pregnant, expecting more than one baby , has been diagnosed with kidney disease, scleroderma, lupus, diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis.

Preeclampsia is not easy to detect, there are no precise tests that will pinpoint the problem. Instead, doctors must rely on signs and tests that seem to indicate the possibility of toxemia of pregnancy. Unfortunately, these same signs could have been associated with other diseases or even with healthy pregnancies so working closely with a physician becomes extremely important. The physician will look for the important signs of increased blood pressure and “proteinuria” which basically is protein in the urine. They will also look at symptoms which may include persistent headaches, sensitivity to light and / or blurred vision, and complaints of abdominal pain.

Women who have high blood pressure and want to become pregnant can reduce or lessen the complications associated with high risk pregnancy by making lifestyle changes such as:

1. Controlling hypertension through changes in diet, reducing daily salt or sodium intake, adding exercise to lose weight and learning stress management techniques.
2. Have a heart-to-heart talk with your doctor to find out how your hypertension may affect you and your baby and what you must do to protect yourself – then do it!
3. If you take medicines for your high blood pressure, ask your physician if you will need to make any changes either in the medication itself, or the dosages. There are some blood pressure medications that should not be taken during pregnancy.
4. NEVER take yourself off your medications without your doctor's consent. NEVER change the dosage without your doctor's consent.
5. Check with your physician before taking any over-the-counter medications since there are ingredients in some products which may directly affect a developing fetus and the health of the mother.

In a hypertensive pregnancy, regular prenatal care is essential for the health of the mother and fetus. It goes without saying that a pregnant women should not drink or smoke while she is pregnant.

There may be many situations that can not be controlled during a pregnancy, but those that can be controlled should be controlled for the health of the mother and baby.