Q: What pregnancy complications can be caused by high blood pressure?

A: About 8 in 100 women (8 percent) have some kind of high blood pressure during pregnancy. Some women have high blood pressure before they get pregnant, while others have high blood pressure for the first time during pregnancy.

Left untreated, high blood pressure during pregnancy can cause a number of serious problems for both you and your baby. These include:

Preeclampsia: This is when a pregnant woman has high blood pressure and signs that some of her organs, such as kidneys and liver, might not be working properly. Signs and symptoms of preeclampsia include having protein in the urine, changes in vision and severe headaches.

Preeclampsia can be a serious medical condition. Even if you have mild preeclampsia, you need treatment to make sure it doesn’t get worse.

Premature birth: This is birth that happens too early – before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Even with treatment, a pregnant woman with severe high blood pressure or preeclampsia might need to give birth early to avoid serious health problems for her and her baby.

Low birthweight: This is when a baby is born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces. High blood pressure can narrow blood vessels in the uterus (womb). Your baby might not get enough oxygen and nutrients, causing him or her to grow slowly.

Placental abruption: This is a serious condition in which the placenta separates from the wall of the uterus before birth. If this happens, your baby might not get enough oxygen and nutrients in the womb. You also might have serious bleeding from the vagina. The placenta grows in the uterus and supplies the baby with food and oxygen through the umbilical cord.

C-section: If you have high blood pressure during pregnancy, you’re also more likely to have a cesarean birth. This is surgery in which your baby is born through a cut that your doctor makes in your belly and uterus.

To avoid complications from high blood pressure, be sure to:

  • Go to all your prenatal care checkups, even if you’re feeling fine.
  • If you need medicine to control your blood pressure, take it every day. Your provider can help you choose one that’s safe for you and your baby.
  • Eat healthy foods. Don’t eat foods that are high in salt, like canned soups and other foods.
  • Stay active. Being active for 30 minutes each day can help you manage your weight, reduce stress and prevent problems like preeclampsia.
  • Don’t smoke, drink alcohol or use street drugs or abuse prescription drugs.

If you have high blood pressure, talk to your healthcare provider. Managing your blood pressure can help you have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

Dr. Joanne Price Williamson is an OB-GYN who sees patients at Memorial Health University Physicians/Women’s Care Bluffton in Okatie. MemorialHealthDoctors.com