Top 5 Pregnancy Problems Pointing to Heart Disease
It’s no secret that pregnancy taxes a woman’s body. Blood volume expands and heart rates increase. Although doctors have always been aware of the immediate risks associated with these increased demands on a woman’s body, new research suggests pregnancy complications may be a sign of heart disease that can simmer for decades.
Pregnancy can act as an early stress test for the heart. For most women, this stress to the system frequently goes at delivery, but there may still be an underlying heart risk.
Women whose pregnancies are riddled with problems have up to seven times the risk of heart disease compared to those who have uncomplicated pregnancies. In light of these sobering statistics, the American Heart Association has added pregnancy complications to their risk factor profile for heart disease in women.
Among the top 5 complications of concern:
- Gestational hypertension. Defined as elevated blood pressure during pregnancy, pregnancy-induced hypertension usually resolves at the end the pregnancy—but it frequently comes back with subsequent pregnancies.
- Pre-eclampsia. Women who developed pre-eclampsia, a sudden increase in blood pressure late in their pregnancy, have a 2 to 3 fold risk of dying from heart disease before age 60 compared to women without the condition. Add pre-existing hypertension to the mix, and there’s a 6-fold increased risk.
- Placental dysfunction. Women who experience placental problems during pregnancy (including placental abruption, placental infarction and placental insufficiency) have double the risk of cardiac death. The risk doubles if the placental problem affects your baby’s growth and development.
- Gestational diabetes.Women who develop diabetes during pregnancy, even if it resolves after delivery, are at increased risk of heart disease.
- Low birth weight. If you give birth to a low birth weight baby—even without any other pregnancy complications—you have double the risk of dying from a heart-related issue.
These numbers are alarming. But, if you suffered complications during pregnancy it doesn’t mean you’re destined for a heart attack. Rather, it’s a warning sign to take steps to reduce your risk. Be sure to eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, manage stress and get sufficient sleep. Most importantly, inform your doctor of any complications you experienced during pregnancy so he or she has a full picture of your health history and factors that may affect your risk for conditions like heart disease.
What preventive strategies can you initiate now to keep heart disease at bay? Should you see a cardiologist immediately after pregnancy? If you aren’t sure, talk with your OB/GYN or midwife at your next appointment.
Candice Gates, MD, earned her medical degree from Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. She completed her residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. Dr. Gates is a member of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Dr. Gates is dedicated to providing knowledgeable, compassionate, and personable care for women at all stages of their reproductive life. Her goal is to provide individualized care and advocate for women’s health.
In addition to performing minimally invasive gynecological surgery, Dr. Gates treats patients for a wide range of conditions and concerns, including:
- Family planning and contraceptive counseling
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Premenstrual syndrome