Pregnancy Information Complications Hypertension Preeclampsia

Hypertension can cause serious pregnancy complications, including a dangerous condition called preeclampsia. Pregnant woman diagnosed with preeclampsia or hypertension must be carefully monitored. Serious cases of preeclampsia may require induced labor to end the pregnancy.

Hypertension During Pregnancy

Hypertension is common in pregnant women. Hypertension during pregnancy is defined as blood pressure of 140/90 or higher. While hypertension is a factor in preeclampsia cases, hypertension in pregnant women does not always indicate preeclampsia.

Preeclampsia and Pregnancy

Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication that combines hypertension, water retention and protein in the urine. Approximately five percent of pregnant women develop preeclampsia, a blood circulatory disorder that resolves itself after pregnancy. Without treatment, preeclampsia threatens the health of both the pregnant woman and her child.

Risk Factors

Pregnant women experiencing their first pregnancy are at risk of preeclampsia during the last trimester of pregnancy. Pregnant women younger than twenty or older than 35 are at higher risk of preeclampsia.

Pregnant women of African-American ethnicity are at higher than normal risk of preeclampsia, as are pregnant women bearing twins or multiple children. Diabetes, preexisting hypertension and kidney disease also increase preeclampsia risks.

Preeclampsia and Hypertension Symptoms

Hypertension does not usually produce noticeable symptoms, but regular blood pressure tests during pregnancy detect hypertension. Preeclampsia can produce any of the following symptoms:

  • edema (an accumulation of fluid in various parts of the body)
  • headaches
  • hypertension
  • sudden weight gain
  • weight gain of more than two pounds a week.

Other possible preeclampsia symptoms include low urination, nausea, vomiting, anxiety and vision problems. Pregnant women with hypertension or preeclampsia should seek medical assistance immediately if they experience burning urination, sudden blindness, abdominal pain or a buzzing or “ringing” in the ears.

Diagnosing Preeclampsia During Pregnancy

Your physician may suspect preeclampsia in the presence of weight gain, hypertension, edema, protein in the urine, abnormal blood tests and/or abnormal kidney function tests. While edema is a preeclampsia symptom, some swelling of the feet and ankles is normal during pregnancy.

Preeclampsia Complications and Pregnancy

Preeclampsia and hypertension can cause seizures, strokes, and liver or kidney damage in pregnant women. Fetal complications include premature birth if treatment requires induced delivery. If preeclampsia and hypertension reduces placental blood flow, the fetus may not receive sufficient food and nutrients, causing a low birth weight and other complications.

Induced Labor and Other Preeclampsia Treatments

Induced labor is the most common treatment for preeclampsia. If the pregnancy is earlier than 36 weeks, hospitalized bed rest is recommended to try to reach 36 weeks before inducing delivery and ending the pregnancy. Severe preeclampsia may require induced labor as early as 28 weeks. Induced labor prior to 24 weeks may be required, but induced labor that early greatly reduces fetal survival rates.

Hypertension during pregnancy may also require induced labor. If diastolic hypertension is higher than 100 mmHg for longer than a day, induced labor is recommended. Induced labor is also necessary if the pregnant woman’s diastolic hypertension reaches 110 mmHg at any time.

Other factors may require induced delivery in a pregnancy affected by hypertension or preeclampsia. Severe headaches, fluid in the pregnant woman’s lungs, abnormal liver function tests and abnormal fetal monitoring results may require induced delivery if preeclampsia or hypertension is present.


American Academy of Family Physicians. (updated 2004). Preeclampsia.

Beers, M. H.,