How to Lower High Blood Pressure in Pregnancy

High blood pressure in pregnancy can lead to serious health problems for both mother and baby. Learn how to manage blood pressure through simple, lifestyle changes.

A doctor takes a pregnant woman's blood pressure

Pregnancy is an exciting time. The connection you feel with the life growing inside you is like no other experience. But as with any major life journey, there may be some bumps along the way. High blood pressure in pregnancy is one health concern that can lead to complications for both the mother and the developing fetus. But don’t worry, with the help of your doctor, and some simple lifestyle changes, you can have a happy, healthy pregnancy. 

What is High Blood Pressure?

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a condition in which the force of your blood against the walls of your blood vessels is too strong. Over time, this force puts stress on your heart and other organs.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) high blood pressure during pregnancy is called pregnancy dizziness. It is due to a deficiency of liver and kidney yinqi stagnation, or poor energy flow with an accumulation of phlegm, and qi and blood deficiency. This imbalance causes a lack of nourishment to both the mother’s brain and the baby’s brain.

Some women have high blood pressure before they get pregnant. Others develop it for the first time during pregnancy. Lifestyle choices factor into the risk of high blood pressure during pregnancy. Potential causes include: 

  • Being overweight
  • Smoking or drinking alchohol
  • Being pregnant with multiples
  • Being over 35
  • Having an autoimmune disease

3 Types of High Blood Pressure in Pregnancy

It’s important to take steps to manage high blood pressure during pregnancy because of the risk to both mother and child. 

Chronic Hypertension

If you had high blood pressure before the start of your pregnancy, or develop high blood pressure before 20 weeks of pregnancy you have chronic high blood pressure. You and your doctor should have been working to control it before you became pregnant, using medication and through lifestyle changes, including improved nutrition, weight loss, and regular physical activity. You should continue to do that all through your pregnancy under the advice of your doctor in charge or gynecology.

Gestational

Gestational hypertension occurs after the 20th week of pregnancy. It is characterized by:

  • A normal blood pressure before pregnancy.
  • Development of a systolic blood pressure (the top number) of 140 mm Hg or higher and/or a diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) of 90 mm Hg or higher.

This condition can be well managed and there are generally few symptoms, but women with gestational hypertension are monitored — usually weekly — for signs of preeclampsia (see below) and to make sure that their blood pressure does not go too high. If it does rise to severe levels (160 mm Hg or higher and/or diastolic blood pressure of 110 mm Hg or higher), there is a risk of serious complications.

Preeclampsia

A pregnant woman on a yoga mat feels nauseous due to high blood pressure in pregnancy
Feeling nauseous and pain in the abdominal area are two signs of preeclampsia.

A serious high blood pressure disorder called preeclampsia also can happen during pregnancy — usually after 20 weeks — or soon after childbirth. If you are diagnosed, it’s important to work with your doctor to manage your preeclampsia, since it can lead to adverse side effects for both mother and fetus during pregnancy, as well as to the woman and child over the next months and years. 

Risk factors include family history, a first pregnancy, an older age, obesity/diabetes, and being pregnant with multiples. While much rarer, some women experience preeclampsia after giving birth.

Complications include:

  • Fetal growth restriction
  • Preterm birth
  • Placental abruption
  • HELLP syndrome. HELLP stands for hemolysis (the destruction of red blood cells), elevated liver enzymes and low platelet count. This can become life-threatening for both you and your baby.
  • Eclampsia. When preeclampsia isn’t controlled, eclampsia — preeclampsia plus seizures — can develop.
  • Organ damage. Preeclampsia may damage the kidneys, liver, lung, heart, or eyes, and may cause a stroke.
  • Cardiovascular disease. Having preeclampsia may increase your risk of future heart and blood vessel disease.

Preeclampsia may be asymptomatic. That’s why you should be tested for it regularly — at what week of gestation to start the testing is a decision you should make with your doctor.

However, if you experience any of the following symptoms, contact your doctor as soon as possible: Severe headache; changes in vision; upper abdominal pain, usually on the right side; nausea or vomiting; shortness of breath; and decreased urine output.

How to Manage Hypertension During Pregnancy

A group of pregnant women doing prenatal yoga
Managing stress during pregnancy may help you avoid problems with high blood pressure.

There are changes you can make in your day-to-day life to help manage high blood pressure. Here are some ways you can have a healthier pregnancy and manage high blood pressure.

Manage Stress

During pregnancy, it’s important to manage stress for your health and your baby’s health. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to incorporate stress relief into your daily life. 

According to TCM Physician Lim Sock Ling, adjusting your mindset is a huge factor in managing high blood pressure. It’s important for pregnant people to “stay cheerful, avoid anxiety or over-stimulating the mind and to get ample sleep in a peaceful environment.” She also suggests sleeping on the left side of the body, as this position is thought to protect the liver and increase blood flow to the heart, fetus, uterus, and kidneys.

For ultimate relaxation, Physician Lim recommends that women with high blood pressure “soak their feet in warm water before sleep. This helps to bring the pressure down and promote relaxation for a restful night. However, note that those with swollen feet should not use this method.” If you’re dealing with swollen feet, try elevating your feet instead.

If you have a hectic life and struggle to find a moment for yourself, try adding breathing exercises to your routine. Bringing awareness to your breath and breathing more deeply can lower your heart rate and help bring your blood pressure down. Or try listening to soft music with a moderate tempo. 

Lowering stress helps with more than just your mental health. When you’re less stressed, your body works more effectively. 

Stay Active

Exercise is one of the most powerful ways to battle high blood pressure. Your workout doesn’t have to be intense to be beneficial. Even 30 minutes of a gentle workout can maintain heart health and keep high blood pressure under control. 

Exercise will also help you keep your weight under control. During pregnancy, it’s completely normal to gain weight. However, rapid weight gain can put stress on the body and contribute to high blood pressure. 

A 2019 study proved the blood-pressure control benefits of a daily simple walk during pregnancy. Physician Lim also recommends yoga, tai chi, and qigong as beneficial activities. But, as always, check with your doctor to make sure your exercise of choice is safe for you. 

Acupuncture and Herbs

An acupuncturist uses acupuncture needles to reduce high blood pressure in pregnancy
Studies show that acupuncture lowers blood pressure in pregnant women.

Enlisting the help of a qualified TCM practitioner can help you reach your blood pressure management goals. Studies have shown that acupuncture can reduce blood pressure and has positive effects, such as easing the symptoms of morning sickness. 

One study on preeclampsia showed that acupuncture lessened symptoms of high blood pressure. This allowed mothers to increase the length of gestation, which decreased the risk of premature births and low birth weight. However, there are some acupuncture points your practitioner must avoid during pregnancy — some can induce labor. So, make sure you tell your acupuncturist, even if you are in the first trimester. 

Your TCM doctor may also prescribe an herbal treatment. Physician Lim lists a few treatments for pregnant women dealing with high blood pressure. 

  • Chrysanthemum tea, a DIY tea that is safe during pregnancy and easy to prepare. It reduces liver fire.
  • A soup made of Longan with red dates, goji berries, codonopsis (dang shen). This soup is also safe to prepare at home. It strengthens qi and helps with blood deficiency. 
  • Ban Xia Bai Zhu Tian Ma Tang (半夏白术天麻汤) that contains a blend of herbs, including Pinellia cured rhizome (Zhi Ban Xia), atractylodes rhizome (Bai Zhu), and panax ginseng. This formula helps with qi stagnation and accumulation of phlegm.

Dietary Changes

Your diet is one of the easiest ways to control high blood pressure. The first step is to limit your salt intake. When you eat too much salt, your body holds on to extra water to help flush the salt out. This excess water increases blood volume and that increases pressure on your blood vessels and heart. 

But eating less salty food is just one dietary change that can help you keep your blood pressure at a healthy level. 

Physician Lim recommends eating foods that are high in protein, vitamins, and minerals. Some good sources of protein are lean meats, like the essence of chicken and fish such as omega-3 rich salmon. You also want to pick vegetables and fruits that are rich in calcium, magnesium, and potassium, such as leafy green vegetables, like kale and spinach, and to eat garlic. Physician Lim also recommends dark chocolate — so feel free to follow your meal with a square of dark chocolate!

A Better Tomorrow

You can have a successful pregnancy even if you are experiencing high blood pressure. Work with your doctor to monitor it frequently. Adopt lifestyle changes to your diet, stress management, and level of physical activity. And work with a TCM practitioner to gain the benefits of acupuncture and herbal teas. 

If you know someone who is struggling with high blood pressure during pregnancy, share this article with her. 

References

  1. Mayo Clinic. 2020. High blood pressure and pregnancy: Know the facts. [Accessed November 15, 2021]
  2. CDC. 2021. High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy. [Accessed November 15, 2021]
  3. ACOG. 2020. Preeclampsia and High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy. [Accessed November 15, 2021]
  4. University of Michigan Health. 2020. High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy. [Accessed November 15, 2021]
  5. NCBI. 2019. The effect of walking on pregnancy blood pressure disorders in women susceptible to pregnancy hypertension. [Accessed November 15, 2021]
  6. Mayo Clinic. 2021. Stress and high blood pressure: What’s the connection?. [Accessed November 15, 2021]
  7. NCBI. 2019. Integrating Acupuncture for Preeclampsia with Severe Features and HELLP Syndrome in High-Risk Antepartum Care Setting. [Accessed November 15, 2021]
  8. JAHA. 2020. Associations of Dash Diet in Pregnancy With Blood Pressure Patterns, Placental Hemodynamics, and Gestational Hypertensive Disorders. [Accessed November 15, 2021]
  9. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Preeclampsia and High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy [Accessed November 22, 2021]

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