Need To Know: Hypertension Disorders in Pregnancy

Issue No. 4: Black Maternal Health
Words - Aarti Patel: PA-C
Illustration - Alexandra Folino


High blood pressure can often be brought upon by pregnancy, a condition called gestational hypertension or pregnancy induced hypertension (PIH). This is when a person’s blood pressure is greater than 140/90, 20 weeks or more into the pregnancy. PIH can sometimes lead to serious health problems, but most people with PIH will go on to have healthy deliveries and healthy babies.

Preeclampsia is a dangerous form of high blood pressure that also occurs 20 weeks or later in pregnancy. It can cause organ damage, most commonly to your liver and kidneys. Preeclampsia occurs in 5% to 8% of pregnancies, and often shows up earlier in Black women. Black women are also more than twice as likely to die from preeclampsia than white women. The causes of preeclampsia are not completely known, but certain factors can increase your risk, including:

  • Age under 20 or over 35

  • History of high blood pressure

  • First pregnancy

  • Diabetes

  • History of autoimmune disorders

Many people do not experience any noticeable symptoms of preeclampsia. Some people may experience severe headaches, blurry vision, and swelling.

Preeclampsia can cause serious complications. The pregnant person can develop seizures, a condition called eclampsia. Common complications to the fetus can include preterm birth and low birth weight. Preeclampsia can also cause long term complications, and can double a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke, even after giving birth. If you have experienced preeclampsia, it is important that you let your doctors know in the future so they can help monitor and reduce those risks.

Preeclampsia can take a toll on your physical and mental health. Early recognition and regular prenatal care is the best way to detect and prevent the serious problems associated with PIH or preeclampsia. Blood pressure should be measured at every prenatal visit. When urine is tested, ask your provider whether protein was detected, and how much. Be familiar with the symptoms associated with preeclampsia. If any of these symptoms occur after 20 weeks of pregnancy, inform your health care provider as early as possible.