Potentially Fatal: High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy

Although pregnancy is a completely natural function for women of child-bearing years, like any other condition it has complications, some of which are extremely dangerous and even life-threatening. Developing high blood pressure during pregnancy is a very serious problem and must be immediately and effectively treated to insure the survival of the mother and the unborn child. Obstetricians keep a very close watch on a mother’s blood pressure for early detection of this killer condition.

Hypertension makes the heart work harder; this extra workload makes heart muscles enlarge to the point where the enlarged heart is inefficient in pumping blood. For women, high blood pressure during pregnancy can cause severe cardiac problems.

High blood pressure during pregnancy can damage a woman’s small blood vessels within the kidneys. At this point, the kidneys can no longer filter and cleanse blood effectively. Waste products build up in the mother’s blood and are passed on to the unborn child, eventually leading to kidney failure – a fatal condition if not rapidly treated.

What is Preeclampsia?

Among the few dangerous complications of pregnancy, preeclampsia is by far the most serious. This is a condition that only occurs during pregnancy, usually after the 20th week. Its primary symptoms are high blood pressure during pregnancy, protein in the urine, and edema (a fluid build-up in tissues). Worse, preeclampsia causes abnormalities in the liver, kidneys and effects blood clotting; preeclampsia caused by high blood pressure during pregnancy could cause the mother to die of exsanguination (blood loss) during delivery. So potentially fatal to the mother and the child, preeclampsia and its later stage, eclampsia, could cause the mother to go into status epilepticus (uncontrolled convulsions) and coma. This condition usually results in the death of the mother and the child.

When a pregnant woman is diagnosed with preeclampsia, she will most likely remain hospitalized to eliminate high blood pressure for the duration of her pregnancy. Treating preeclampsia without harming the unborn child is tricky indeed. Using hypertensive medications during pregnancy is controversial since they may harm the development of the child. However, treating the mother’s high blood pressure during her pregnancy may be unavoidable if her hypertension rises to levels high enough to threaten her life. In that case, the obstetrician will most likely choose a Beta blocker medication that lowers blood pressure and can be used –with caution—during pregnancy.

When preeclampsia occurs due to high blood pressure during pregnancy, the only sure-fire “cure” is to induce labor as soon as the baby can survive outside the womb. Because of the mother’s life-threatening hypertension, she must deliver the child as quickly as possible. Even if she survives, the child is at extreme risk for being stillborn or dying shortly after its premature birth.

There are some risk factors for high blood pressure during pregnancy and preeclampsia: (1) First pregnancy, (2) Preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy, (3) Family history of high blood pressure during pregnancy and preeclampsia, (4) Multiple prior pregnancies, (5) Diabetes, (6) Obesity, (7) Pre-existing hypertension, (8) Kidney disease and (9) Young or older age for pregnancy.