As with a lot of fertility issues, there are a lot of myths and a lot of rumours about high blood pressure in pregnancy. As a scientist, a doctor, and a mother, I firmly believe that all women have a right to know the facts about their fertility, health and wellbeing. Getting to grips with the facts on high blood pressure is essential in giving people more of an understanding, and control, over their own health and chances of having children
If you have high blood pressure, it may be possible for you to have a successful and healthy pregnancy, but there will be a slightly greater chance of complications. Around 1 in every 20 women will develop high blood pressure during their pregnancy, according to Blood Pressure UK. That's why I advise people who want to start a family to start thinking about their own health and wellbeing. High blood pressure is treatable and can be reduced by reducing salt intake, eating a balanced diet, avoiding harmful use of alcohol, maintaining a healthy body weight, avoiding tobacco use and by getting active with more exercise.
If you already have high blood pressure, then you will have a higher chance of developing pre-eclampsia. This is a form of high blood pressure specific to pregnancy that is caused by reduced placental blood flow. If pre-eclampsia is not detected, the results can be dangerous for the mother and baby. Although drugs are used to control the blood pressure, the only cure is delivery of the baby and according to NHS Choices, several hundred babies die each year following complications from severe pre-eclampsia, often as the result of premature birth. Women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a common endocrine disorder which can lead to infertility, are at a higher risk of developing hypertension, pre-eclampsia and some other pregnancy complications. Many women with this condition are often overweight and should get fit for pregnancy by reducing weight. If you do develop pre-eclampsia, you and your baby will be closely monitored and you will be advised by your doctor on any lifestyle changes you can make that could help to reduce the risks. Plus there are a number of sources of information available on the internet - from Action on Pre-eclampsia to NHS Choices and Blood Pressure UK.
Recent research by Massachusetts General Hospital, the largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, showed that - among almost 300 IVF pregnancies that resulted in the birth of a single infant from 2005 through 2010 - the women whose oestrogen levels before egg retrieval were highest had significantly greater incidence of pre-eclampsia. This is one of the reasons why I am a strong advocate for Natural and Mild IVF, which uses a lower level of drugs than conventional IVF. The health and wellbeing of the mother and the child - whether high blood pressure is an existing factor or not - is crucial.
The risks of Pre-eclampsia are often not widely known about because women who have suffered complications are reluctant to talk about it. However public awareness of the condition has been increased by celebrities like Sophie Ellis-Bexter speaking out about their experiences, and the recent Downton Abbey storyline.
If you have high blood pressure, it may be possible for you to have a successful and healthy pregnancy, but it is important to understand the risk of complications and what you can do to reduce these risks. An important screening test developed in the UK can predict the severe form of pre-eclampsia by measuring blood flow in the uterus at the half way stage in pregnancy; if you are at risk or are worried about developing pre-eclampsia you should ask for this test. Above all, if you're setting out on a journey towards starting a family, then take steps to take care of your own health and wellbeing.