Supine hypotensive syndrome: everything you need to know

Pregnant woman having her blood pressure checked during an appointment

by Adejumoke Ilori |
Published on

High blood pressure or hypertension during pregnancy, can be a common occurrence when you're expecting, but sometimes quite serious. As well as increased blood pressure you may experience drops in your blood pressure, or hypotension. When your blood pressure falls from laying on your back during pregnancy, it is called supine hypotensive syndrome.

We spoke to Womens Health Expert Dr Sarah Jenkins, to get expert advice on supine hypotensive syndrome, including its causes, the signs and how it can be treated.

What is supine hypotensive syndrome?

Supine hypotension or hypotensive syndrome is where the weight of the uterus containing an unborn baby lays on the major vein, the vena cava, in the abdomen returning blood from the lower body back to the heart. This pressure can result in a decrease in blood pressure which can interfere with the flow of blood to your uterus and baby. The condition is most commonly seen in late pregnancy.

What are the symptoms of supine hypotensive syndrome in pregnancy?

Symptoms will usually occur within a few minutes of laying down in a supine position (on your back) and range from:

• Dizziness

• Looking pale

• Heart palpitations or tachycardia

• Shortness of breath

• Low blood pressure

• Nausea

• Sweating

• Lower heart rate

What is the best treatment for supine hypotensive syndrome?

This is a transient condition which will go when the pregnant woman changes position. Laying on your left side when resting or sleeping is the best way to treat and prevent this problem as the vena cava is central and slightly to the right side internally.

Is supine hypotension syndrome normal?

It can be considered a normal ‘problem associated with pregnancy’ so women just need to be mindful of how to prevent it happening, and not be alarmed. If you are pregnant and experience any of these symptoms when laying flat on your back, remember to shift to your left side. Wait 10 mins and if all symptoms have gone there is no need to worry. If symptoms persist then seek medical advice.

 If you're over 20 weeks, overweight, you're carrying more than one baby or have an existing heart condition you may be at higher risk of experiencing supine hypotension.

Can supine hypotensive syndrome in pregnancy be prevented?

Yes, from your second trimester onwards remember to lay on your left side when resting and get into this habit. You can use maternity pillows or normal pillows to help cushion yourself and make this position more comfortable for you. Laying on your left side will help to prevent supine hypotension.

There are no specific exercises that will help to reduce your risk of supine hypotensive syndrome but keeping healthy is always beneficial to your blood pressure. However, after 20 weeks of pregnancy you should avoid exercises that have you lie on your back, including some yoga and Pilates poses. Any light exercise during pregnancy is fine, and if you were active prior to pregnancy it is generally deemed safe to continue with this, however you should always check with your health care provider for your own specific health situation and individual pregnancy.

Looking into foods that can help to keep your blood pressure more consistent may also help if you're experiencing blood pressure fluctuations during pregnancy - but again be sure to consult your midwife or GP before making any drastic changes to your diet while pregnant.

Adejumoke Ilori is a Commercial Content Writer for Mother&Baby. She is a mum to a little girl and has worked for various digital platform. She has produced content that empowers women from all walks of life by sharing real life stories based on relationships, loving yourself and motherhood. She has also worked for OK! and New Magazine, writing product reviews, covering fashion and beauty, the latest celebrity news and lifestyle. Adejumoke enjoys spending quality time at home with her daughter creating precious memories – doing things like spa nights and grabbing popcorn and cuddling up.

Meet the expert:

With over 10 years of experience as an NHS doctor, Dr. Sarah Jenkins offers expert guidance and treatment for women’s health, including postnatal support and pelvic health. Drawing on both professional and personal experience, Dr. Jenkins is one of the UK's leading experts on women's intimate radiofrequency treatments, and is a global master trainer for Inmode. She is one of a handful of experts in the UK offering solutions for this rapidly growing niche area of medical care for women.

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