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The American Heart Association recently published its findings that high blood pressure during pregnancy can significantly increase a woman's risk for developing heart disease, kidney disease, and diabetes.

The risk increased even if high blood pressure was detected even once during routine medical care.

Many pregnant women experience blood vessel problems. This blood-vessel problems force the heart to work harder to pump blood to the placenta and maternal organs. Studies have shown that up to 30 percent of first-time pregnancies are affected by hypertension, preeclampsia (high blood pressure plus protein in the urine) or eclampsia (high blood pressure, protein in the urine and seizures). A majority of women with hypertensive disorders will deliver healthy babies and fully recover, but you and your baby’s present and future heart health may be at risk.

  • What to know (Learn and protect you and your baby)

Why some women develop hypertensive disorder during pregnancy is not entirely known, but it’s more likely among women who are pregnant for the first time, are obese, are 35 years or older, have a history of medical conditions, are carrying twins or are African-American.

Preeclampsia is a disorder which is one of the most common known causes of prematurity, responsible for as many as 100,000 of the total 500,000 premature births each year, according to the Preeclampsia Foundation. These disorders prevent the foetus from growing appropriately.

“Maintain your weight and exercise three to five days a week,” advises Lori Mosca, M.D., director of preventative cardiology at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Also, be alert to symptoms of preeclampsia, including headaches, vision problems, rapid weight gain and swelling of the hands and face.

Women who are being treated for hypertension during pregnancy need to be aware of the potential for danger. A recent study of Medicaid data from more than 1.1 million pregnant women found that nearly 5 percent receive blood pressure medications. The problem is that there’s limited information about the safety and effectiveness of such blood pressure drugs during pregnancy. Common medications, such as ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers, can cause poor growth, kidney problems and even death in foetuses, researchers report. One has to be careful and always ask your doctor questions.

If you are taking any of these medications and are or plan to become pregnant, talk to your doctor about safer alternatives, says Mosca. In general, methyldopa and labetalol are the recommended blood-pressure medications for use during pregnancy.

Research suggests that mom’s to be who have hypertension, preeclampsia or gestational diabetes, a disorder characterized by high blood-glucose levels during pregnancy, are twice as likely to develop heart disease in the future.

In addition to exercise and weight control, women should see a primary care doctor or cardiologist postpartum to ensure careful monitoring and control of risk factors, state the AHA guidelines. Also, it’s important to mention your pregnancy complications the first time you see a new doctor.

Even if you had a hypertension or preeclampsia scare during pregnancy, it’s easy to forget once your baby is born. Says Mosca, “One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is to role-model the importance of a heart-healthy lifestyle.”

Also, according to a study presented at the Canadian Stroke Congress, High blood pressure during pregnancy could dramatically raise a woman’s lifetime risk of stroke; particularly if they had pre-eclampsia which is a more severe form of high blood pressure,” says Dr. Aravind Ganesh.

“Hypertension is the most important risk factor for stroke,” says Dr. Michael Hill, co-chair of the Canadian Stroke Congress. “Knowing your blood pressure may be one of the most important steps you can take to reducing stroke risk, something that is particularly true among women with a history of pregnancy-associated hypertension.”

The exact cause of hypertension during pregnancy is undetermined, but one theory is that some women are genetically predisposed to high blood pressure and the pregnancy brings it on. Even though it might return to normal post-partum, these women need to monitor their blood pressure and to reduce their risk of having a stroke later on.

The bottom line is that it’s important that women with pregnancy-related hypertension routinely monitor their blood pressure throughout their lives.”

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