Pregnancy Induced Hypertension: Symptoms, Causes and Complications

Pregnancy induced hypertension (PIH) is high blood pressure during pregnancy. It is also called pre-eclampsia or toxemia of pregnancy. It is one of the complications of pregnancy which is characterized by high blood pressure, edema of feet and proteinuria (passage of protein in urine). At least 1 out of 15 women suffer from this condition and it is common in women who are pregnant for first time.

It can also develop pregnancies thereafter. Hypertension during pregnancy may be harmful for the baby as well as for the mother. Pregnancy induced hypertension increases the risk of placenta abruption, stillbirth and growth retardation of the fetus. High blood pressure can be dangerous during pregnancy as it can lead to seizures in mother and sometimes death. However, if detected early and treated, there is less risk of complications.

Pregnancy Induced Hypertension Causes:

Hypertension is the most common medical disorder of pregnancy. Hypertension during pregnancy increases the risk of complication in mother as well as the child. A normal blood pressure is force that blood exerts on the vessel wall while flowing through it.

Arteries carry blood from heart to every part of the body. Hypertension or high blood pressure means pressure exerted on the artery wall is more than the normal. During pregnancy, normally systolic pressure increases slightly but the diastolic blood pressure remains normal.

Hypertension in pregnancy is defined as increment of systolic blood pressure by more than 30 and diastolic blood pressure by 15 mm of hg. A pregnant woman is said to have pregnancy induced hypertension when she has high blood pressure after 20th week of pregnancy and previously she was normotensive. The exact cause of pregnancy induced hypertension is not known. But several factors contribute for development of this condition. The risk increases in:

  • Mother’s age less than 20 or more than 40 years.
  • First pregnancy.
  • Obese woman
  • Hypertension before pregnancy
  • Diabetes before and during pregnancy
  • Hypothyroidism
  • History of PIH in previous pregnancy
  • Family history of PIH
  • Woman having twins or triplets.
  • Kidney disease before pregnancy

Symptoms of pregnancy induced hypertension:

Following are the symptoms of pregnancy induced hypertension. However, very woman suffering from PIH may experience the symptoms differently.

  • Increased systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Protein passed in urine.
  • Edema (swelling) of legs and face.
  • Severe headache
  • Severe nausea and vomiting
  • Low urine output
  • Blurred vision
  • Blood in urine
  • Increased drowsiness
  • Abnormal ringing sound in ear.
  • Pain in abdomen
  • Changes found in kidney function test
  • Pain below the ribs
  • Palpitation
  • Presence of blood in vomiting
  • Fever
  • Severe weakness

Possible Complications:

Pregnancy induced hypertension is serious condition that must be treated. It can lead to life threatening complications both for the mother as well as for the child. For the baby complications arise because the placenta does not receive enough blood which can be passed on to the baby. This may lead to low oxygen saturation. Following are the complications that can develop due to hypertension in pregnancy.

  • Placenta abruption. It is a serious condition in which the placenta pulls away from its attachment to the uterine wall causing profuse bleeding in mother. Bleeding can be life threatening. It can because of bleeding; it also causes distress to the fetus.
  • Seizures in pregnant woman.
  • Problem in clotting of blood
  • Hepatic dysfunction with elevated liver enzymes
  • Low platelet count.
  • Premature delivery of the baby.

Diagnosis and treatment:

During the course of pregnancy, routine prenatal tests are done from time to time. These tests include monitoring blood pressure, urine and blood tests. If the symptoms of pregnancy induced hypertension are present, blood pressure is measured frequently. The doctor also makes an assessment of edema and liver as well as kidney function test. Blood clotting test is also recommended by the doctor. Ultrasound test helps to detect the fetal growth and any anomaly if present.

Treatment of pregnancy induced hypertension:

Treatment of pregnancy induced hypertension is necessary to prevent further complications. If hypertension is mild, the doctor may suggest home treatment. This may include complete rest in bed. The pregnant woman has to lie on the left side. Regular blood pressure monitoring is necessary. Patient has to reduce salt intake and take necessary anti hypertensive medicines as prescribed by the physician. Person must avoid salt in salads and fruits. Reduce salt in food preparation. Mother must avoid eating processed foods. She must drink enough water to prevent dehydration. In case of severe hypertension, the pregnant woman needs to be hospitalized so that her blood pressure and other vital parameters can be easily monitored. In the hospital medicines are administered to prevent seizures. Sometimes early delivery with cesarean section may be necessary to save the infant.