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The Risk of Heart Disease During Pregnancy

The Risk of Heart Disease During Pregnancy

Among the physical changes that accompany pregnancy are changes to the heart and blood vessels. This is largely due to the increase in blood volume, which happens in order to properly nourish the growing baby.

During pregnancy, the amount of blood in the body increases to around 30 to 50 percent. And as the heart pumps more blood each minute, the heart rate increases as well.

So it is normal to feel fatigue, shortness of breath, and lightheadedness during pregnancy. Because these are brought about by the effects on the heart and overall circulatory system.

But in some instances, heart disease may develop. If any symptoms are concerning, it is still best to seek the advice of a healthcare provider to better understand the connection between pregnancy and heart disease.

Pregnancy and Heart Disease: Risk Factors

Pregnancy puts a lot of stress on a woman’s body because it requires the heart to work even harder. This makes pregnant women more susceptible to heart disease.

Underlying medical conditions like hypertension, diabetes, and hypercholesterolemia can also increase the risk of heart disease.

In addition, age also becomes a factor. Many women who choose to bear children in their late 30s and early 40s are presented with a different set of risks. This makes them more prone to acquiring heart disease, which can complicate their pregnancy.

But there are those who already have pre-existing heart diseases such as the following:

  • Heart rhythm issues
  • Heart valve issues
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Congenital heart defect

Women who suffer from any of these conditions should be evaluated by a health care professional before planning a pregnancy.

Although it is still relatively safe for women to conceive even with a heart condition, consulting a cardiologist, heart specialist, and an obstetrician specializing in high-risk pregnancies is still advised.

Pregnancy and heart disease can lead to serious conditions that must be dealt with delicately. Most of these conditions require special attention to make sure that the mother and baby are safe during the pregnancy.

Pregnancy and heart disease: Is it safe for a woman to conceive?

There are, however certain heart diseases where pregnancy is not recommended. Eisenmenger’s Syndrome, a rare congenital condition, is one example. Women who suffer from this experience high blood pressure that causes pulmonary hypertension.

This can be fatal for both the mother and the baby. Some conditions that may make a pregnancy high-risk are the following:

  • Certain heart birth defects
  • Marfan Syndrome, a connective tissue disorder that is hereditary
  • Narrowing of the aortic heart valve or mitral heart valve, respectively called aortic stenosis and mitral stenosis
  • Abnormal aortic valve, which has only two instead of the normal three flaps, combined with an enlarged aorta
  • Cardiomyopathy or heart damage, which may have occurred in a previous pregnancy
  • Moderate or severe heart failure

Since pregnancy requires the heart to work even harder, it may only worsen the pre-existing heart condition and pose dangers to the expectant mother and the fetus, leading them to be born prematurely. In some cases, the child may also inherit the mother’s birth defect of the heart.

Pregnancy and heart disease: How to protect your heart health

Pregnancy and heart disease are often interlinked, with one presenting unique challenges to the other.

Despite the risks, women who suffer from certain heart diseases can still successfully deliver a healthy baby. Keeping a healthy lifestyle throughout their pregnancy and beyond is the best way to keep the heart protected.

Here are some guidelines to follow.

  1. Maintain healthy weight through a proper diet
  2. Take the prescribed prenatal vitamins
  3. Avoid caffeine which can trigger irregular heartbeats
  4. Avoid salt. It can cause high blood pressure and bladder retention
  5. Avoid alcohol and tobacco, even second-hand smoke
  6. Avoid certain types of drugs during pregnancy. Best to consult your doctor
  7. Stay active with moderate exercise. Consult your doctor for activities and exercises that are safe for you
  8. Get enough rest, with at least eight hours of sleep each night
  9. Schedule frequent check-ups with the doctor

Aside from taking the necessary steps before and during pregnancy, labor and delivery needs to be given attention as well. Labor and delivery still add to the heart’s workload in this last stage of the pregnancy.

A woman may experience changes in blood flow and pressure, particularly when it is time to push the baby out during normal delivery.

During this time, pregnant women who suffer from severe cases of heart disease, may be advised to be put under epidural anesthesia during labor and delivery.

Key Takeaways

Research shows that there is an increase in the number of cases that relate to pregnancy and heart disease. Heart attacks during pregnancy are possible.

But despite this, it is important to note that the incidence rate has consistently been very low.

According to a study in the United States, there were 112 cases of heart failure per 100,000 pregnancy-related hospitalizations. And 27.3% of these cases were during delivery and only 13.2% occurred before childbirth.

Between 2001-2011, there was an average 4.9% increase in maternal hospitalizations relating to heart failure yearly. These cases were found to be during the ante-partum stage of the pregnancy or right before childbirth.

Meanwhile, a study conducted in the Philippine General Hospital between January 2009 to December 2010 presented a low rate.

For every 1,270 live births there was one case that is related to heart disease or failure, particularly Peripartum cardiomyopathy. But this does not mean one has to take pregnancy and heart disease lightly.

Pregnant women need to always listen to their bodies and be conscious of the signs that may lead to heart disease. Among the signs to look out for are as follows:

  • Discomfort in the chest area
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty in breathing when lying flat
  • Swelling of the legs

Pregnancy and heart disease present unique physical stresses on the body. Though certain symptoms may be considered normal and expected during pregnancy, especially higher blood pressure and fatigue, women must always be careful and seek the advice of their doctors for any concerns.

It is best to have your heart health monitored regularly and see if it is functioning properly throughout your pregnancy, for your protection and for your growing baby’s health and safety.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Written by Angela Luz Tarriela Updated Jun 06
Medically reviewed by Mary Rani Cadiz, M.D.