Why your heart health could change during pregnancy
During pregnancy, the heart has to work harder than usual to circulate blood to both you and your baby. This new stress can put you at a higher risk for different cardiovascular complications than before you became pregnant.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), roughly 700 women in the U.S die from various pregnancy-related health problems each year, and more than 50,000 women have life-threatening pregnancy complications. Heart and blood vessel conditions are the leading causes.
“Pregnancy adds extra strain on a woman’s heart and blood vessels,” says Dr. Rachael Baird, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Aurora BayCare. “When this happens, it can result in cardiovascular or heart health issues.”
This strain can also cause other problems to emerge during pregnancy, such as high blood pressure, diabetes or preeclampsia. These can occur during pregnancy, delivery and/or postpartum.
Dr. Baird also explains how pregnancy-related heart problems can happen to anyone, but you may have a higher risk if you:
- Are 40 years old or older
- Are African American, American Indian or Alaska Native
- Are considered overweight or obese
- Aren’t physically active
- Consume opioids or other illegal drugs
- Drink alcohol
- Have existing health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or blood clotting disorders
If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, the NHLBI suggests a few ways to help manage your heart health:
- Understand your risk. This starts with knowing your Body Mass Index, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
- Talk to your doctor. They can help explain your results and therefore your risk and how it can affect your pregnancy or future pregnancies.
To mitigate risk, begin practicing heart-healthy habits now, such as eating healthy foods, getting enough physical activity, managing stress and limiting smoking. Also, watch for warning signs of heart complications during or after pregnancy including a worsening headache, overwhelming tiredness, dizziness, trouble breathing, chest or belly pain, swelling, or nausea.
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