Preeclampsia (Pregnancy Induced Hypertension)

Blood Pressure Guidelines

Medical Author: Benjamin C. Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

The concept of blood pressure is sometimes difficult to understand because it is usually described with numbers. However, adequate pressure within arteries is important to allow blood to be pumped throughout the body to deliver oxygen and other nutrients to areas of the body. This allows for normal metabolism and organ function.

The blood pressure recording, measures pressures within the arteries at two different times. The first reading, the systolic pressure, measures the pressure when the heart is pumping blood to the body through the arteries. The second reading, the diastolic pressure, measures the pressure within the arteries when the heart is receiving blood returning from the body.

There needs to be an underlying pressure within arterial blood vessels regardless of whether the heart is pumping or not. This intrinsic pressure is maintained by smooth muscle cells that surround all artery walls, great and small, and in effect squeeze and support the walls. Without this wall support, arteries would collapse in diastole (between each heart beat).

Blood pressure measurement is listed with two numbers with normal being less than 120/80, with 120 being the systolic blood pressure when the heart is pushing blood through the arterial system; and 80 being the diastolic blood pressure when the arteries are at rest and the heart is refilling.

Quick GuideStages of Pregnancy: 1st, 2nd, 3rd Trimester Images

Stages of Pregnancy: 1st, 2nd, 3rd Trimester Images

Preeclampsia Facts*

*Preeclampsia facts medically edited by: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

  • High blood pressure during pregnancy can be dangerous for the mother and baby.
  • Effects of high blood pressure during pregnancy range from mild to severe.
  • Preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy) generally begins after the 20th week of pregnancy and is related to increased blood pressure and protein in the mother's urine.
  • Approximately 6% to 8% of women in the U.S. experience high blood pressure during pregnancy.
  • Risk factors for preeclampsia include chronic high blood pressure before becoming pregnant; preeclampsia in previous pregnancies; pregnancy occurring under the age of 20 or over the age of 40, multiple gestation; and previous conditions such as lupus, scleroderma, diabetes, kidney disease, and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Symptoms of preeclampsia include persistent headaches, blurred vision, abdominal pain, and sensitivity to light.
  • There is no single test to diagnose preeclampsia.
  • If you have high blood pressure and are thinking of becoming pregnant; keep your blood pressure under control with lifestyle changes; discuss how high blood pressure may affect you and your baby with your doctor; if you take blood pressure medications; discuss how these medications may affect your baby.
  • While you are pregnant avoid alcohol and tobacco, make sure you receive regular prenatal medical care, and discuss any OTC medications you are taking with your doctor.
  • There is no proven way to prevent preeclampsia.

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