3 Heart Risks That Need Special Care During Pregnancy
By Maria Duca, MD, Cardiologist—Virtua Cardiology
Shailen Shah, MD
Lead Physician and Medical Director—Virtua Maternal-Fetal Medicine
Director—Virtua Maternal-Risk Program
If you’re pregnant, it will be just a few short months until you give your newborn your whole heart and all your love. For that reason, it’s best to make sure your heart is as healthy as it can be now and well beyond pregnancy and birth.
Pregnancy is a stress test on your body. The heart, for example, has to pump 50% harder than normal in the third trimester and 200% harder during labor.
Therefore, if you have risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, or diabetes—or an existing heart condition—you should receive specialized care to treat it, ideally, before you become pregnant. Otherwise, your condition could worsen during and after pregnancy.
Recognizing your risk
While aging is a main risk factor for heart disease, more people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s are having heart attacks. Shifts in lifestyle, including eating more processed food and exercising less, have led to higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels and an increase in obesity and diabetes.
If you don’t see a health care provider regularly, you may not be aware of your heart risks. This can lead to complications during pregnancy, as well as to health problems down the road.
Here are the heart conditions or risks you need to be aware of:
High blood pressure
If you have high blood pressure (hypertension), you can develop preeclampsia during pregnancy, which can be dangerous to both you and your baby. In addition to higher blood pressure, preeclampsia can cause liver and kidney problems, headaches, vision changes, fluid in the lungs, and premature birth. Long term, women with a history of preeclampsia have a 71% greater chance of dying from heart disease or stroke than those who never had it.
Heart valve disease
Pregnant women who have heart valve disease also have a greater likelihood of having a stroke. If you have a narrowing of the aortic valve (stenosis), your doctor will monitor you more frequently during the pregnancy and may plan for you to have the baby earlier than your due date. If you have a severe case, the valve should be replaced before pregnancy.
Diabetes can cause problems during pregnancy for women and their developing babies. Poor control of diabetes during pregnancy increases the chances for birth defects and complications for the mother.
Virtua’s maternal-fetal medicine team works with you before and during pregnancy to help you have a healthy pregnancy.
The Maternal-Risk Program is a unique program that brings together specialists in maternal-fetal medicine, obstetrics, cardiology, anesthesia, and radiology to diagnose your condition and develop a coordinated care plan for you and your baby. And, the team has the expertise and technology to provide emergency medical intervention, if needed, including a level III neonatal intensive care unit.
Connect with a Virtua specialist
Ask your obstetrician, cardiologist, or family doctor for a referral to Virtua's high-risk pregnancy and heart care team. To learn more, call 888-847-8823.
Updated February 28, 2022