Best Way to Understand Pregnancy-Induced Hypertension

Your health depends on many things, but one system it particularly depends on is your circulatory system.

Your heart pumps blood through the blood vessels. When these blood vessels become smaller because the inside layer of muscle is con­tracting, less blood can get through the system. Then the heart has to work harder to pump blood. When this occurs, the pressure in the blood vessels increases and you can develop high blood pressure. Small fluctuations in blood pressure are normal and occur in everyone throughout each day. When blood pressure remains above normal for extended periods, health care providers become concerned about your cardiovascular system.

There are two types of high blood pressure for pregnant women. Some women have high blood pressure before they became pregnant, which is called chronic hypertension. Others develop pregnancy-induced hypertension, or PIH, which, as the name implies, is high blood pressure developed during pregnancy.

Pregnancy Induced Hypertension Best Way to Understand Pregnancy Induced Hypertension

Cause of PIH

The cause of PIH is not yet known, but some researchers speculate it may occur because your body is seeing the components of pregnancy, such as the baby’s different blood type or different genetic makeup, as unfamiliar and is defending itself. The problems with PIH usually don’t occur until the thirteenth week of pregnancy, when your body will start reacting to these components. However, the actual PIH symp­toms don’t manifest themselves until after the twentieth week of preg­nancy. The symptoms can be mild to severe.

Another theory of the cause of PIH has to do with pregnancy hor­mones. Normally in pregnancy, hormones relax the muscles and blood vessels. This does not occur in women with PIH. For some reason their bodies do not respond to the hormonal influence. The blood vessels are persistently contracted causing higher pressure within the vessels and the heart must work harder causing an elevation in blood pressure.

If you develop high blood pressure in your pregnancy, your doctor will be concerned about both you and your baby. Your baby’s develop­ment and health depends on your circulatory system, which supplies needed nutrients and oxygen. Having high blood pressure can affect your health as well.


PIH symptoms may be mild to severe. They include:

  • Water retention, bloating, and swelling in hands and face
  •  Double vision, blurred vision, or frequent spots in your vision, like a camera flash in your eyes
  •  Mild elevation of blood pressure, 130/90 to 140/90
  •  Headaches that are not resolved with acetaminophen
  • Weight gain of more than one pound a day
  • Protein in your urine (when checked at your prenatal appointment)
  • Pressure or pain in the upper right side of your abdomen

Many women who have never had high blood pressure and have no risk factors for high blood pressure develop PIH during pregnancy, so doctors and midwives check for signs of it at every prenatal appointment.

Who Is at Risk?

Women who appear to be at heightened risk for this condition are those:

Pregnancy Induced Hypertension 1 Best Way to Understand Pregnancy Induced Hypertension

  •  Who are pregnant for the first time
  •  Who are carrying multiples
  •  Over 40 years old
  •  With problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and kidney disease
  •  With autoimmune diseases like lupus
  •  With a history of high blood pressure
  •  With a family history of high blood pressure or PIH
  •  Who are African American

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