High Blood Pressure

Causes   |   Risk Factors   |   Treatment   |   Questions to Ask   |   Self-Care

Print on Demand


A blood pressure reading concerns the blood in the arteries. The top number in the reading is the systolic pressure. That’s the pressure when the heart muscle contracts. The bottom number is the diastolic pressure. That’s the pressure when the heart muscle relaxes.


An example of a blood pressure reading is 120/80. This is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). A blood pressure reading should be taken before pregnancy or at its start. This is called a baseline blood pressure. The baseline reading shows what is normal for that woman. During the first several months of pregnancy, blood pressure may drop a little. It often rises slightly later in the pregnancy. That’s because of the extra work the mother’s body is doing. A slight rise is normal then. High blood pressure in pregnancy is when there is an increase of 30 or more in the systolic pressure (top number). An increase of 15 or more in the diastolic pressure (bottom number) is also a sign of high blood pressure.



Eating Right

during Pregnancy

A common cause of high blood pressure in pregnancy is preeclampsia. This used to be called toxemia. Three things usually come with preeclampsia:

•  High blood pressure

•  Swelling of the face, hands, fingers, or feet

•  Protein in the urine

Other symptoms of preeclampsia are:

•  Sudden weight gain or gaining more than 2 pounds a week

•  Headaches

•  Vision problems like spots before the eyes or blurry vision

•  Pain in upper belly

•  Severe indigestion that doesn’t go away

Preeclampsia affects about 7 out of 100 pregnant women. It happens most often during a first pregnancy, but can occur again, especially with a new partner. And, it only happens during pregnancy. It goes away after delivery. Preeclampsia can lead to eclampsia. That’s when convulsions also occur. Eclampsia can result in a coma for the mother.

Risk Factors

The cause of preeclampsia is not known. High blood pressure does not have to be present before pregnancy. The things listed below may increase the risk for preeclampsia:

•  First pregnancy or first pregnancy with a new partner

•  Chronic high blood pressure or kidney disease

•  Diabetes or lupus before the pregnancy

•  Being overweight

•  Being African American

•  Pregnancy before age 20 or after age 35

•  Being pregnant with more than one baby

•  Preeclampsia in a past pregnancy or in a mother or sister

Pregnancy Induced Hypertension (PIH)

High blood pressure can develop during pregnancy without other symptoms. This is called pregnancy induced hypertension (PIH). This type of high blood pressure often happens after the 20th week. After delivery, blood pressure usually goes back to normal.


High blood pressure and preeclampsia can range from mild to severe. They can be treated with medical help and home care. But if serious symptoms are present, medicine and/or hospital care may be needed. The health care provider may induce labor (bring on labor). Or a Cesarean section (C-section) may be done.


When blood pressure remains high, not enough blood reaches the placenta. The fetus doesn’t get enough oxygen and nutrients. That can cause:

•  Growth problems for the fetus

•  Placenta abruptio.

•  A baby that is born preterm, that has mental problems, is underweight, or stillborn

Questions to Ask


•  Get a lot of rest. Sleep 8 to 12 hours at night. Take 2 naps during the day, if you can. When you sleep or rest, lie on your left side, as much as you can. This helps blood flow to the placenta. When you tire of lying on your left side, lie on your right side.

•  Take medicine for high blood pressure as prescribed. If told to do so, take regular blood pressure readings at home. Ask your health care provider how to get a home test kit.

•  Follow your health care provider’s advice about exercise.

•  Do things to relax. Examples: listen to soft music, put your feet up, take a nap. Watch a TV show that makes you laugh. Put your hand on your belly to feel your baby move.

•  Don’t take any medicine without your health care provider’s okay. That includes cold or sinus medicines and antacids.

This website is not meant to substitute for expert medical advice or treatment. Follow your doctor’s or health care provider’s advice if it differs from what is given in this guide.


The American Institute for Preventive Medicine (AIPM) is not responsible for the availability or content of external sites, nor does AIPM endorse them. Also, it is the responsibility of the user to examine the copyright and licensing restrictions of external pages and to secure all necessary permission.


The content on this website is proprietary. You may not modify, copy, reproduce, republish, upload, post, transmit, or distribute, in any manner, the material on the website without the written permission of AIPM.