A Hidden Pregnancy Risk Is On The Rise – What You Need To Know

Pregnancy is an exciting time for parents, full of wonder and hope at a new little life entering the family.

Now, a new study has uncovered a startling rise in recent But pregnancy does cause many physical changes to a woman’s body as the baby develops.

A study at the New York University School of Medicine found that in little more than a decade, from 2002 to 2014, the number of heart attacks in pregnant women and those who recently gave birth increased by 25 percent.

Most pregnant moms are young and healthy, but the physical stress of pregnancy on a woman’s body causes many changes in the heart and circulatory system.

Blood volume increases by up to 50 percent as mom’s body works to nourish the baby.  The heart must work overtime to pump this extra blood, causing mom’s heart rate to significantly rise.

Labor and delivery add additional stress to the heart as the baby proceeds down the birth canal and while pushing.  These changes in blood pressure can be significant – and sometimes tragically – too much for the heart to handle.

The study found that a shocking 4,471 heart attacks occurred out of 100,000 births, primarily in the immediate hours and weeks following childbirth, but also during the final weeks of pregnancy.

And of these, 4.5 percent of these women died in the hospital.

It is shocking that in this time of such medical advancements and technology that women are dying from heart attacks in childbirth, but there are several reasons involved.

And knowing your risk factors and discussing them with your obstetrician can significantly reduce the chance of serious health complications before and after giving birth.

While pregnant women undergo a litany of lab tests and most have regular appointments during pregnancy, tests for heart disease risk other than a basic cholesterol check are rarely conducted.

Heart disease can be a hidden killer, often presenting few, if any, symptoms prior to a significant cardiac event taking place.

So what can you do to reduce your risk and keep yourself and baby safe?

The physicians who conducted the study recommend discussing any family history of heart disease or heart attack with your doctor, either when you are planning to become pregnant or in the early weeks of the pregnancy.

If you have ever had any sign of heart disease or unexplained symptoms that you may have dismissed, now is the time to bring them up to your physician.

Heart palpitations and brief changes in heart rhythm (a fluttering in the chest), and shortness of breath are normal during pregnancy as blood flow increases.  You may be light-headed or experience weakness, as well.

But it is always worthwhile to tell your doctor of any symptoms you are experiencing during your routine pregnancy visits.

And if you have a family history of heart disease or have experienced any of these symptoms prior to pregnancy, additional tests may be ordered.

Undiagnosed heart rhythm or heart valve issues are the cause of many of these heart attacks in pregnant women but can be easily treated with no danger to you or the baby if caught early.

And if you have a personal history of heart disease or have ever had heart surgery, it becomes even more imperative to see a cardiologist who can work with your obstetrician during pregnancy to reduce the risk of any potential problems.

The bottom line?  You and baby can have a safe and healthy pregnancy and delivery, even with these underlying conditions, as long as they are addressed and monitored during pregnancy and for the first few months postpartum.

Additionally, if you have ever had blood pressure issues or have taken blood thinners, your physician may order additional testing during pregnancy or schedule more frequent appointments to monitor these conditions.

One of the authors of the study published by the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Nathaniel Smilowitz, stated:

Our findings highlight the importance to women considering pregnancy to know their risk factors for heart disease beforehand … These patients should work out a plan with their physicians to monitor and control risk factors during pregnancy so that they can minimize their risk.

It is important to remember, though, that while these statistics may be frightening, there is no reason you cannot have a safe pregnancy and delivery as long as you and your doctor work together on a plan of action.

And if you have ever been a smoker, let your physician know.  They may order an ultrasound of the heart to make sure there is no residual enlargement or damage that needs to be addressed during your pregnancy.

(It should go without saying, but if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, quit immediately.  In fact, even if you live with a smoker, it can affect you and your baby, so get the whole family on board and get rid of those cigarettes!)

The physicians who authored the study say the findings serve as an important reminder that even with advanced medical technology, pregnancy causes extreme physical stress on a woman’s body – no matter how healthy you are.

Take care of yourselves, moms — before, during, and after pregnancy – and you will be taking home that healthy bundle of joy in no time.

Have you experienced heart disease during or after pregnancy?  What plan of action did you and your physician decide on?  Leave us your thoughts.











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