Under Pressure



Your blood pressure will be checked at every antenatal appointment, but why is it so important? Writes, Heather Alton

You probably never gave your blood pressure a care in the world before you became pregnant.

But now that you are expecting, you will have it tested regularly. Here’s why …

Blood pressure is a measure of the function of your hear and blood vessels, and gives information about the condition of both. It is written as two separate numbers, for example 120/170.

The first, the systolic pressure, is the maximum pressure in an artery at the moment when the heart is beating and pumping blood through the body.

The second, the diastolic pressure, is the measure of the heart pumping when you are at rest. If either of these numbers is raised, it can indicate high blood pressure (hypertension).

Low and high blood pressure

Your blood volume increases by 70% during pregnancy, placing greater strain on your cardiovascular system. Low blood pressure is common around week 32, and it can make you feel faint and dizzy.

High blood pressure can indicate pre-eclampsia, a potentially serious com- plication in pregnancy.

Why is it important to monitor blood pressure in pregnancy?

Your midwife will check your blood pressure at every antenatal visit to establish what is normal for you, this way any variations can be detected.

There are no symptoms to high blood pressure in the early stages so it is very important that you attend all of your antenatal appointments.

What happens if my blood pressure is high?

If high blood pressure is detected, a repeat test will be done and your urine will be checked for protein. High blood pressure combined with proteins in the urine can indicate pre-eclampsia.

If your blood pressure is over 140/90 or is unusually high for you, even if it is still within the normal range, you will need to be monitored in hospital. You will also have blood and urine tests and scans to check your baby.

What is pre-eclampsia?

Pre-eclampsia is a condition that can only develop in pregnancy. It occurs after 20 weeks and reduces the flow of blood to the placenta.

As well as high blood pressure and protein in the urine, other symptoms include swollen legs, ankles and fingers, headaches, nausea and vomiting and excessive weight gain.

Medication and bed rest may help to keep it in check but the only cure is to deliver the baby.

Eclampsia can occur if pre-eclampsia is not carefully supervised and treated.

It may be fatal for mother and baby but thankfully it is now extremely rare because doctors have learnt to treat eclampsia before it becomes pre-eclampsia.

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