Postpartum hypertension can develop shortly after giving birth, even without a history of high blood pressure. It often has no symptoms but can lead to serious complications if not treated.

Postpartum hypertension refers to high blood pressure shortly after pregnancy. It’s possible to develop this condition even if you have a healthy blood pressure while pregnant.

Unlike postpartum preeclampsia, which involves both high blood pressure and high urine protein levels, postpartum hypertension only affects blood pressure. However, both conditions are considered dangerous and can lead to serious complications.

Here’s what you need to know about postpartum hypertension, including possible symptoms, complications, and treatment options.

Several studies and clinical reviews note that about 10% of pregnancies involve hypertensive disorders. These include gestational hypertension and preeclampsia.

Postpartum hypertension research is more recent. As a 2022 study found, hypertension post-pregnancy may occur more often than previously thought.

The exact cause of postpartum hypertension isn’t clear. While a history of high blood pressure may put you at higher risk, it’s possible to develop hypertension after pregnancy, even if you’ve never had it before.

Some of the possible causes or risk factors include:

  • excess fluids administered during delivery
  • changes in vascular tone, or the smooth muscles within arterial walls
  • pain
  • the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • gestational hypertension
  • preeclampsia
  • giving birth after the age of 35 years

Typically, a “normal” blood pressure reading is 120/80 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury) or lower. An elevated reading is between 120/80 and 129/80, while you may receive a diagnosis of hypertension if your blood pressure is consistently 130/80 mm Hg or higher.

With postpartum hypertension, your blood pressure may be above 140/90 mmHg. You may develop high blood pressure within a few days after giving birth, but you may not realize it without regular blood pressure readings.

The exact timeline for postpartum hypertension varies. Some cases may last a few days, while others may persist for a few months. If postpartum hypertension lasts longer than this, a doctor may consider evaluating you for a different cause of high blood pressure.

Also, while postpartum hypertension may develop within a few days of giving birth, one 2020 review noted that females who experience preeclampsia have a high risk of developing hypertension within 2 years of giving birth.

Unfortunately, postpartum hypertension is difficult to detect because high blood pressure doesn’t cause noticeable symptoms. The only way you can confirm postpartum hypertension is by measuring your blood pressure.

Symptoms of postpartum preeclampsia, on the other hand, may include high blood pressure along with:

  • abdominal pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • severe headaches
  • vision changes

When left undiagnosed and untreated, it’s possible for postpartum hypertension to cause serious complications.

Such health risks are similar to general hypertension. These complications may include:

Furthermore, a 2021 clinical trial estimates that women who experience hypertension during pregnancy are four times more likely to eventually develop long-term blood pressure issues.

Postpartum hypertension is highly treatable when detected early. The exact treatment varies depending on how severe your high blood pressure is. Most people with a blood pressure of 160/110 mm Hg may be treated with medications at home, such as:

  • enalapril (Vasotec), a type of angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor
  • labetalol, a beta-blocker
  • methyldopa, an alpha-2-agonist
  • nifedipine (Procardia XL), a type of calcium channel blocker

These types of medications also help treat non-pregnancy-related hypertension. Possible side effects can vary by medication class and may include:

  • dizziness (calcium channel blockers)
  • fainting
  • headaches (calcium channel blockers)
  • insomnia
  • fatigue
  • dry mouth
  • sexual difficulties
  • constipation (calcium channel blockers)
  • reduced heart rate
  • high blood potassium (ACE inhibitors)
  • low blood pressure (ACE inhibitors)
  • ankle swelling (calcium channel blockers)

The amount of time you need to take these medications depends on how well your hypertension responds. You may need to take them for several weeks or up to 3 months.

While postpartum hypertension may be safely treated while breastfeeding or chestfeeding, it is advisable to avoid certain medications. These include angiotensin II receptor blockers and diuretics.

Additionally, a doctor will regularly monitor your condition after postpartum hypertension treatment because of an increased risk of cardiovascular disease in the long term. They might also recommend long-term lifestyle measures beyond pregnancy and nursing, such as:

  • reduced sodium intake
  • regular exercise
  • minimizing alcohol consumption (if you drink)
  • Stopping smoking (if you smoke) and avoiding secondhand smoke
  • healthy weight management

Postpartum hypertension refers to high blood pressure that develops after childbirth. Recent studies indicate that this condition may be more prevalent than previously thought, and it may increase your long-term risk of hypertension and related conditions.

Hypertension doesn’t cause symptoms, so it’s important to take regular blood pressure readings after giving birth. If you are concerned about postpartum hypertension and have risk factors for this condition, consider talking with a doctor about screenings.