There is no doubt about it. Having a baby is a marvelous experience. But the pathway to maternal bliss inescapably goes through pregnancy. And pregnancy affects a woman’s body in many ways that are definitely non-blissful.
Those negative impacts include body aches, constipation, dizziness, fatigue, weight gain, high blood pressure, sleep problems, heartburn and indigestion, itching, leg cramps, morning sickness, nasal problems, preeclampsia, numb or tingling hands, stretch marks, skin deterioration, swelling, urinary difficulties, and varicose veins.
And pregnancy is hard on the heart, too
In addition to all the above, pregnancy can be very stressful on a woman’s heart.
The body of a pregnant woman inevitably gets larger. That means there’s 30 to 50% more blood volume for the heart to pump. And all that new blood flow must travel through two cardiovascular systems. The workload of a mother-to-be’s heart increases dramatically. Major hormonal changes can also put additional stress on a pregnant woman’s cardiovascular system, as can the flu, eating too much during the holidays and even sitting too much.
Put briefly, pregnancy is a long-term stress test for a pregnant woman. Beginning with the first trimester, her pregnancy will expose any previously hidden heart problems. And that pregnancy may also create newly acquired increased risks of cardiovascular disease (CVD), both present and future.
Heart disease in pregnant women is on the rise
A 2018 study conducted at NYU Langone Health revealed that more pregnant women in the United States are having heart failure.
Between 2002 and 2014, the risk of a pregnant woman having a heart attack increased by 25%. Out of every 100,000 pregnant women, 7.1 were hospitalized for heart attacks in 2002. In 2014, the rate had risen to 9.5 women per 100,000.
Most women aren’t ready for the cardiovascular stresses of pregnancy [new study]
All this information emphasizes the significance of a new study from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
The Northwestern researchers found that fewer than 10% of the 1,117 pregnant women they studied had what they termed “favorable cardiovascular health”. (To determine what constitutes favorable heart health, the pregnant women’s data was compared to that of 8,200 non-pregnant women.)
A healthy diet and appropriate physical activity were especially rare among pregnant women studied by scientists. Another ominous sign was the finding that the worst health status scores were found among the youngest pregnant women.
The results of the Northwestern research strongly suggest that pregnant women should work with their obstetricians and cardiologists to optimize their cardiovascular health levels before, during, and after pregnancy.
High-risk lifestyles should be abandoned. This means adopting a healthy diet, being physically active, avoiding smoking, having a healthy body weight, and maintaining optimal levels of blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar.
Increased risk of congenital heart disease for children
In developed countries, inherited heart disease has become more prevalent because medical research has improved the survival chances of children with congenital heart disease.
Coronary heart disease (especially peripartum cardiomyopathy) during pregnancy is also rising because of risk factors like obesity and unhealthy lifestyles. The growing tendency to postpone motherhood until a woman’s fourth decade also plays a factor, because older women are more susceptible to CVD.
Heart disease and maternal mortality
In the United States, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of maternal mortality during pregnancy and the six-week postpartum period. 25% of pregnancy-related deaths are attributed to cardiovascular disease.
An increased risk of maternal mortality arises from both pre-existing heart conditions and acquired heart conditions, which can develop silently and acutely during pregnancy.
What to do when you discover you’re pregnant
The moment a woman learns that she’s pregnant is the natural time for her to collaborate with her obstetrician and cardiologist in launching a pre-pregnancy program of optimal heart health.
According to the American Heart Association, new research shows that improving cardiovascular health during the early stages of pregnancy leads to a healthier pregnancy and greatly improved long-term heart health.
Improving cardiovascular health in early pregnancy will help prevent heart disease. The result will be a longer life, enjoyed in better health, with a reduced risk of cardiac disease. A pregnant woman’s heart health is also important for the well-being of her child. A healthy mother is far more likely to bear and raise a healthy child.
About Dr. Thaïs Aliabadi
As one of the nation’s leading obstetricians, Dr. Thaïs Aliabadi offers the very best in gynecology and obstetrics care. Together with her warm professional team, Dr. Aliabadi supports women through all phases of life. She fosters a special one-on-one relationship between patient and doctor.
We invite you to establish care with Dr. Aliabadi. Please click here to make an appointment or call us at (844) 863-6700.