Managing high blood pressure

Doctor points out complications and risk factors to look out for

In Summary

• Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, headache and upper abdominal pain

• Diet and exercise can help avoid miscarriage or death of mother and/or child

Blood pressure measurement
Blood pressure measurement

Kakamega-based medical doctor Fred Imbula highlights complications that can be brought on by high blood pressure in pregnant women.

The most common complication is preeclampsia, which can cause serious damage to sensitive organs like the brain and kidneys.

In worst-case scenerios, he says, the condition presents with seizures, medically referred to as eclampsia, and if left untreated can be fatal.

“Symptoms of preeclampsia include abnormal swelling in hands and face, persistent headaches, seeing spots or having changes in vision, upper abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting later in pregnancy and difficulty breathing,” Imbula says.

The medic advises women to call or visit the hospital if they present with any of these conditions and also urges regular doctor visits and letting the doctor know about any changes can help them catch and treat preeclampsia early.

The Haemolysis Elevated Liver Enzymes and Low Platelet Count syndrome is also another complication of high blood pressure in pregnancy. Imbula says the condition is life-threatening and can severely damage vital organs of the body. In some cases, premature delivery is required to save the life of the mother and baby or mostly the life of the mother.

“Look out for things like nausea, vomiting, headache and upper abdominal pain. If the premature delivery happens from 27 weeks, there is a high chance that the baby can be placed in intensive care and survive,” he adds.

High blood pressure during pregnancy can also lead to decreased blood flow to the placenta. This means the baby receives less oxygen and fewer nutrients, which can lead to slow growth or low birth weight or premature birth.


Imbula says common risk factors for high blood pressure, such as obesity, can be minimised through diet and exercise.

He says during pregnancy, it is normal for women to gain some weight, but he advises them to talk to their doctors about a target weight gain and ways to stay within a range that’s healthy for them.

The doctor advises women to ensure they eat a well-balanced diet with all food groups well represented to help keep the blood pressure at a manageable level. “The meals should be nutritious and include fresh vegetables and whole grains. There is also lean meats and dairy products that are low in fat.”

The doctor also advises that since dietary guidelines for pregnant women vary from person to person, a nutritionist is best-placed to help create a meal plan that’s designed for one’s specific height and weight.

Imbula says salt is important during pregnancy and that restricting intake too much is harmful to pregnant women and can impact foetal growth and development.

It is also important for pregnant women to avoid smoking and drinking alcohol as both are known to raise blood pressure and cause other complications during pregnancy.

He also explains that hormone shifts, as well as psychological and physical changes during pregnancy, can cause stress, which can make high blood pressure harder to manage. “You can try stress-reduction techniques such as yoga and meditation.”

Another way for pregnant women to keep hypertension at bay is to monitor their bodies and report any change to their doctors.

“Attending antenatal clinics is usually done monthly by most expectant mothers in Kenya. This, however, does not mean you cannot book an appointment to see your doctor when you begin to feel unwell.”

The doctor urges pregnant women to also exercise regularly so as to keep their weight at an acceptable level.

“To maintain good pregnancy weight, it is advisable to check with your gynaecologist on safe exercises you can do at home during your pregnancy. You can equally just take walks as much as you can to stay fit,” Imbula says.

He says age is a serious factor and that women over the age of 35 stand the most risk of developing hypertension.

“Those who can should attempt to have their babies before that age to be on the safer side, but at the end of the day, the choice on when to have a child is personal,” Imbula says.