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Essential or secondary hypertension in pregnancy

Hypertension in pregnancy is a common and significant complication that can affect both maternal and fetal outcomes. It can be classified into two main types: essential (primary) hypertension, which exists prior to pregnancy or is diagnosed before 20 weeks gestation without a specific cause; and secondary hypertension, which is high blood pressure resulting from an identifiable underlying condition.

Essential Hypertension in Pregnancy

  • Definition: Persistent high blood pressure (BP) ā‰„140/90 mmHg diagnosed before pregnancy or before 20 weeks gestation, not attributed to a specific cause.
  • Epidemiology: Essential hypertension constitutes the majority of hypertension cases in pregnancy.
  • Management Principles:
    • Monitoring: Close monitoring of BP and fetal growth throughout pregnancy.
    • Medication: Antihypertensive therapy may be adjusted, considering medications that are safe during pregnancy (e.g., labetalol, methyldopa, nifedipine).
    • Lifestyle Modifications: Encourage dietary modifications, reduced sodium intake, and regular physical activity as appropriate.

Secondary Hypertension in Pregnancy

  • Definition: High blood pressure resulting from identifiable causes such as kidney disease, endocrine disorders, or coarctation of the aorta.
  • Epidemiology: Less common than essential hypertension, but crucial to diagnose for targeted treatment.
  • Diagnostic Approach:
    • Detailed Medical History and Physical Examination: To identify signs suggestive of secondary causes.
    • Laboratory Tests and Imaging: Kidney function tests, thyroid function tests, and doppler ultrasound of renal arteries, among others, to identify the underlying cause.
  • Management Principles:
    • Targeted Treatment: Management of the underlying cause in addition to controlling high blood pressure.
    • Multidisciplinary Approach: Collaboration with specialists (e.g., nephrologists, endocrinologists) for comprehensive care.

Complications of Hypertension in Pregnancy

Hypertension in pregnancy can lead to several complications, affecting both the mother and the fetus. These include, but are not limited to:

  • For the Mother: Pre-eclampsia/eclampsia, HELLP syndrome (Hemolysis, Elevated Liver enzymes, Low Platelet count), placental abruption, and increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • For the Fetus: Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), preterm birth, low birth weight, and in severe cases, stillbirth.

Management Strategies

  • Antihypertensive Therapy: The goal is to manage blood pressure effectively to reduce the risk of maternal and fetal complications while minimizing medication side effects.
  • Regular Prenatal Care: Essential for monitoring blood pressure, assessing fetal growth and well-being, and detecting any complications early.
  • Delivery Planning: The timing and mode of delivery should be carefully planned based on the severity of hypertension, gestational age, and overall fetal and maternal health.


Understanding the differences between essential and secondary hypertension in pregnancy is crucial for effective management and improving pregnancy outcomes. Medical students should appreciate the importance of early detection, careful monitoring, and individualized treatment plans in managing these patients. Interdisciplinary care, involving obstetricians, cardiologists, and other specialists as needed, is key to addressing the complex needs of pregnant women with hypertension.

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