Can Stress Cause High Blood Pressure in Pregnancy?

The increased blood pressure higher than normal during pregnancy is not expected. If it raises too high, this can be potential to cause serious complication of pregnancy called preeclampsia! Although the heart needs to distribute more blood to prepare and support the growth of baby in pregnancy, increased systolic and diastolic pressure higher than 140 /90 mm Hg should be not ignored. How about stress, can it worsen the problem and cause hypertension (high blood pressure) in pregnant women?

What is the normal pattern of blood pressure fluctuation during pregnancy?

High blood pressure that develops during pregnancy is medically called as gestational hypertension. It can occur for the first time in pregnancy or due to pre-existing hypertension before pregnancy.

But in general, your risk of developing gestational hypertension is higher if you already have chronic hypertension before you get your conception.

Normally, your blood pressure will drop in the second trimester. Even it can reach at its lowest level at 24-26 weeks of gestation. This occurs due to in respond to the fluctuation of pregnancy hormones that trigger the body to dilate the blood vessels.

This dilation means that way for the blood to flow through arteries and veins gets larger – and as a result, the force of blood against the walls of blood vessels decreases. This mechanism is normal since the body needs to distribute more blood to support the growth of the baby during pregnancy.

This decreased level of blood pressure is temporary, because it will increase and return to its normal level on its own by the end of the gestation.

But in some pregnant women, the increased blood pressure in the end of the gestation (in the 2nd 3rd trimester) can run too high (higher than normal /greater than 14/90 mm Hg) which then cause gestational hypertension.

Hypertension during pregnancy – how common is it?

High blood pressure in pregnancy is uncommon problem, but we can say it is quite a common problem. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about 6-8 % of all pregnant women in the U.S experience high blood pressure problems.

And in the U.K, about 1 in 10 pregnancies have problems with hypertension – according to NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence). Most of these cases occur in the first pregnancy of women.

Can stress have an effect on your risk of developing gestational hypertension?

Many times, doctors say that the exact cause of gestational hypertension is not known. This issue is still not fully understood.

In general, experts only know that there are several factors that can put you at high risk of developing high blood pressure during pregnancy. Is stress one of these risk factors?

image_illustration43Actually, it is normal and common to feel stress in pregnancy. To prepare and support the growth of your new baby, your body will make lots of changes – so do your moods!

Typically, stress is more common in women who are pregnant for the first time. If you are pregnant for the second time, you usually will be more experienced to cope with stress.

However stress is stress, it can cause increase in blood pressure. Though the effect is temporary, but it can be dramatic. Occasionally having it during pregnancy is still normal as long as you can manage it.

High stress that occurs too often during pregnancy can be potential to cause high blood pressure, particularly true if you experience a condition called PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) – according to NIH.

As the name implies, posttraumatic stress disorder is high stress that typically occurs due to after experiencing or seeing a painful accident such as a natural disaster, losing someone you love a lot, abuse, or rape.

PTSD can be characterized by excessive feeling of guilty, anxiety and more aware of things. People with PTSD tend to have strong physical reactions to anything that remind them of their painful event.

What are the major risk factors of gestational hypertension?

Stress may have contribution to cause increased risk of gestational hypertension, especially for chronic high stress like PTSD.

However stress doesn’t work alone because there is still no answer of whether or not there is single cause that can be powerful enough to cause hypertension in pregnancy. Experts believe that gestational hypertension occur due to the combination of different factors.

The following are the major risk factors:

  1. Having chronic health conditions such as diabetes increase your risk of gestational hypertension. Other health problems that can have an effect include scleroderma, lupus, kidney problem, and rheumatoid arthritis.
  2. Multiple pregnancies (if you are pregnant with more than one fetus /baby).
  3. Pregnant at not ideal age, such as before the age of 20 and after the age of 40.
  4. Pre-existing obesity (overweight /obesity before you are pregnant).
  5. Having a personal history of hypertension or preeclampsia in the previous pregnancy – especially if the problem occurred early in your previous pregnancy.
  6. Pre-existing hypertension (if you have chronic hypertension before you conceive).

Regardless to the issue about the impact of stress on your blood pressure, it’s clear that this psychological problem is not good for the health of your body and your baby during pregnancy. So, make sure you manage your stress as well!

Why high blood pressure is problem you should not ignore in pregnancy?

Even if you are not pregnant, hypertension can be bad for your heart and the health of your cardiovascular system in long term. In pregnancy, having too high systolic and diastolic blood pressures can be potential to cause some of the following problems: