Acupuncture and Pregnancy: Dawn Aarons, Toronto – High Blood Pressure can become a pregnancy related complication in which case it is called Pregnancy Induced Hypertension (PIH). If a woman is also experiencing edema (excessive fluid retention) and has protein in her urine (determined with a dipstick test in a urine sample), this condition is referred to as preeclampsia.
Women can also enter pregnancy with pre-existing high blood pressure (essential hypertension).
In both cases, blood pressure is monitored on an ongoing basis. The systolic (the top figure) and the diastolic pressure (the bottom reading) are monitored. Concern will arise if either the systolic or diastolic pressure rises significantly above the woman’s original blood pressure (baseline). A diastolic pressure of over 90-95 is usually considered a cause for concern, particularly if accompanied by upper body edema, protein in the urine, severe headaches, nausea or vomiting, and/or visual disturbances.
Pregnancy Induced Hypertension (PIH) affects 2.5-3% of pregnant women (Redman C, Sargent 2005. Latest Advances in Understanding Preeclampsia. Science 308: 1592-4.) PIH is more commonly experienced by first-time mothers, especially those under 19 and over 40 years old, and those who are obese.
Acupuncture for High Blood Pressure
Acupuncture is the most commonly used method to treat hypertension during pregnancy in our Toronto Acupuncture clinic. Acupuncture is used to balance and relax the body, and is most successful in combination with lifestyle adjustments – especially regular exercise, stress relief, and a healthy diet.
From a Chinese Medicine perspective, the appropriate treatment depends on the underlying imbalance that is causing the hypertension. Different imbalances will show different combinations of signs and symptoms in addition to the high blood pressure. An experienced acupuncturist will determine a woman’s pattern of imbalance (in this case some possibilities include Liver Blood deficiency, Liver and Kidney yin deficiency, Spleen Yang Deficiency, Liver Yang Rising) and treat her specific condition. In her book, Acupuncture and Pregancy in Labour, Debra Betts writes, “positive changes are clearly achievable with acupuncture, indicating that it can help the body to normalize and allow women to progress naturally through their pregnancy. These changes include reduction in uric acid to normal levels and stabilization of liver enzymes, as well as the more obvious signs of blood pressure readings remaining within acceptable medical limits”(p.110)
Research on Hypertension
Research on Hypertension supports calcium supplementation and regular exercise.
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a study that reported that consuming sufficient calcium during pregnancy can reduce the risk of PIH and preeclampsia. The researchers found that 1500 – 2000 mg daily of calcium supplementation can lower the risk of PIH by 70% and the risk of preeclampsia by over 60%.
A study on exercise and gestational hypertension concluded that the most active women were 43% less likely to develop preeclampsia than sedentary women. (Marcoux, S., J. Brisson, and J. Fabia. The effect of leisure time physical activity on the risk of preeclampsia and gestational hypertension. J. Epidemiol. Community Health 43:147-152, 1989.)
See Self-Care Guide for Pregnancy Hypertension for information on things you can do to help yourself. Consider using acupuncture as part of the overall care plan you arrange in consultation with your primary health care provider.