Pregnancy and Heart Disease: Are They Connected?
There are so many worrying aspects to pregnancy for a woman to be concerned about. The health of the baby becomes the most important thing on a pregnant woman’s mind. Does she need to worry about her heart health too?
Normal Changes in Pregnancy
Pregnancy is a natural part of the human reproductive cycle and, most of the time, is safe and risk-free. Natural and essential changes to a woman’s body alter how her healthy heart works. When pregnant, blood volume in the body is increased by 40-50% in order to support a healthy baby. Because of this, a pregnant woman’s heart must work harder to make sure the baby is receiving enough oxygen and nutrients to grow.
All of this extra work for the heart means a pregnant woman’s heart rate beats 10-15 beats per minute faster than before she was pregnant, and her blood pressure drops slightly. She experiences these natural changes as normal pregnancy symptoms like shortness of breath and light-headedness.
Pregnancy-Induced Heart Conditions
Some women with no previous heart-related medical conditions find themselves developing heart conditions during pregnancy. With regular medical checkups, these conditions can be detected and treated before they become larger medical issues.
Few women, 6-8%, develop pregnancy-induced hypertension or high blood pressure. It can be a symptom of pre-eclampsia or toxemia, so a doctor’s care and treatment are important. For most women, this type of hypertension resolves itself post-partum.
Sometimes arrhythmias, or abnormal heartbeat, is detected during pregnancy. Most of the time, it is a harmless occurrence that is rarely even felt. It can be a sign of a heart condition you didn’t know you had, so your doctor will most likely keep an eye on it. Most cases do not require treatment.
Pregnancy requires increased insulin production to support a healthy baby. When the body is unable to produce the amount of insulin required, the mother’s blood sugars rise and cause gestational diabetes. Having gestational diabetes increases the risk for the mother and baby to both develop diabetes later in life. Diabetes is one risk factor for heart disease.
This is a very rare condition where heart failure develops in a woman somewhere between the last month of pregnancy and five months post-partum. The cause is unknown. It is important for your heart health to continue visiting your doctor on the recommended checkup schedule both pre- and post-partum.
Congenital Heart Defects and Pregnancy
If you have a congenital heart defect, it is best to consult with your cardiologist before conceiving. Some heart defects can support a healthy pregnancy while others may require intervention. Some women with serious heart conditions are advised against pregnancy all together.
You can keep your heart as healthy as possible during your pregnancy by eating a heart healthy diet, exercising regularly and by not smoking. Keep up with your doctor’s pregnancy and post-partum checkup schedule so she can monitor your heart health. Reduce your stress by focusing on the joys of pregnancy and enjoy this special time.