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A silent killer during pregnancy

When you go for your antenatal check-up, they will monitor your high blood pressure on every visit. You may have existing high blood pressure or you may develop hypertension during pregnancy, whatever the case it is important to keep it under control because during pregnancy it can pose a risk to both mother and the unborn baby. If hypertension is not detected and then controlled, it can cause low birth weight or require early delivery of the baby. “We have seen a 33% increase in high blood pressure problems during pregnancy worldwide and an alarming one in six maternal deaths in South Africa are due to hypertensive disorders. Not only can hypertension have serious consequences for the infant during pregnancy, but it may also promote heart disease in the child during their lifetime” warns Dr Vash Mungal-Singh, former CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA.

Be alarmed

The problem with high blood pressure is that you may feel perfectly normal but there might be something significantly wrong. Hypertension has no symptoms or warning signs which is why it is referred to as a silent killer.There are certain factors that can put one at an increased risk of hypertension during pregnancy and these include:

  • Hypertension during a previous pregnancy

  • Obesity

  • Being under the age of 20 years and over the age of 40 years

  • Having diabetes and other chronic illnesses

  • Being pregnant with more than one baby.


When high blood pressure is accompanied by protein in the urine, and swollen ankles, fingers and face; it is particularly serious and is called pre-eclampsia. Hypertension and especially pre-eclampsia can furthermore be very harmful to the mother as well, by causing seizures, damaging the kidneys, liver and brain and increasing the risk of stroke. Women with any of these factors should be especially vigilant. Severe headaches and visual disturbances are warning signs that require an urgent visit to your clinic.

The right to care

Expert in maternal, child and women’s health Dr Yogan Pillay, admits that, “Primary health care plays a critical role in ensuring the prevention and risk reduction of hypertension during pregnancy. South African women have the right to a safe pregnancy and comprehensive antenatal care. We would therefore like to emphasise the need for all future and expectant mothers to get their blood pressure measured and urine tested.” The good news is that regular testing of blood pressure can go a long way to help control hypertension and pre-eclampsia.

Prevent problems during pregnancy

If you already have high blood pressure, discuss how hypertension might affect you or your baby with your doctor so that they can adapt or change any current blood pressure medication, if necessary. Ensure that you are eating healthily with plenty of fruit and vegetable, that daily there’s dairy in your diet and you limit intake of salt and salty foods. Don’t consume alcohol or tobacco products. In addition, taking calcium supplements can prevent pre-eclampsia. For a healthy pregnancy one should:

  1. First and foremost, ensure that you are in the best possible health before thinking of falling pregnant; including managing a healthy weight, being physically active and not smoking.

  2. Get early and regular care from a doctor.

  3. Follow all the doctor’s recommendations.

  4. Do what you can to help manage blood pressure.

Checking blood pressure regularly throughout pregnancy and beyond is important to monitor the health and well-being of mom and baby.

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