Managing hypertension during pregnancy

Written by Cynthia Maseko

MPUMALANGA – Bongekile Shabalala – a 22-year-old new mother who was diagnosed with high blood pressure at her first antenatal clinic visit – ended up giving birth prematurely because of her condition.

According to Shabalala, she was first diagnosed with high blood pressure three years ago when she was 19. She was put on medication, which she took regularly at first, but then stopped after a few months when she started feeling better.

“Just a few weeks after founding out I was pregnant with my baby boy Blessing, I started experiencing these signs and symptoms of hypertension,” she said.

These included headaches, dizziness, stomach pains, vision changes and excessive vomiting and nausea.

She started to panic and immediately went to the clinic. It was right at the beginning of her first trimester that was diagnosed with high blood pressure.

During her second trimester she visited Matsulu Clinic for a second opinion from her local gynecologist who confirmed she had hypertension and, due to her history with the chronic condition, her pregnancy was automatically classified as high risk.

Eating healthy

“I immediately started taking the medication and followed every instruction I was given by my midwife because I didn’t want to die or to lose my child. To be honest, I had no information about high-risk pregnancies. But I knew to adhere to treatment and change my lifestyle by eating healthy food and keeping my body active because a healthy body and mind is always the best,” she said.

“I was told that the reason I had preeclampsia is that my high blood pressure got worse. I was also told that if my hypertension doesn’t decrease I may develop complications such as congestive heart failure, vision problems, a stroke, seizures and kidney or liver problems.”

According to midwife Thembi Mabaso “Preeclampsia is high blood pressure that occurs exclusively in pregnancy. Therefore, even if your chronic high blood pressure is under control before you are pregnant, you may later develop preeclampsia as well.”

“If you have chronic high blood pressure you are more likely to develop preeclampsia – but does not necessarily mean you will. If a mother does develop preeclampsia, their doctor may recommend inducing labor before the due date to prevent further pregnancy complications. If the preeclampsia is severe the doctor may recommend a Caesarean birth,” Mabaso said.

She advised women with high-risk pregnancies to seek professional assistance from a doctor or healthcare specialist as with proper care it was possible for a woman with high-risk pregnancy to give birth to a healthy baby.

An edited version of this story was published by Health24.

About the author

Cynthia Maseko

Cynthia Maseko joined OurHealth in 2013 as a citizen journalist working in Mpumalanga. She is passionate about women’s health issues and joined Treatment Action Campaign branch as a volunteer after completing her matric. As an activist she has been involved with Equal Treatment, Planned Parenthood Association of South Africa, Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV and also with Marie Stopes Clinic’s project Blue Star dealing with the promotion of safe abortions and HIV education.