A woman’s body begins to change from the moment she conceives. We often associate the process of creating new life with things like hormonal shifts and stretch marks, but sometimes more serious changes can occur. Most women who are of childbearing age have strong hearts with a low risk of cardiovascular complications developing during pregnancy, but it can happen. Some pre-existing conditions can also increase the risk of complications. Let’s take a look at how cardiovascular changes can occur during pregnancy, why prenatal heart care is important, and how MOGA can help you have a healthy, happy pregnancy!
Cardiovascular changes in pregnancy
The changes that occur in the cardiovascular system during pregnancy help ensure the baby receives adequate oxygen and nutrients as it grows. These changes can place additional stress on the mother’s heart, however. Throughout an average pregnancy, a woman’s heart and blood vessels will experience a dramatic increase in blood volume and cardiac output, an increase in the resting heart rate, and occasional drops in blood pressure.
If you have an existing heart condition, it can be exacerbated by pregnancy. It’s important to seek supervision and care from a skilled cardiologist to achieve the best outcomes possible when it comes to both pregnancy and birth. The degree of intervention needed will depend on the type of condition involved, as well as the perceived risk to you and your baby. If you have been diagnosed with any of the following, you may require ongoing monitoring and care from a cardiologist during pregnancy:
- High blood pressure
- Arrhythmia or heart murmur
- Narrowed mitral or aortic valves
- Congenital heart defect
- Previous cardiovascular event
Although it’s uncommon, there are some heart conditions that can develop over the course of pregnancy. Most of these won’t pose any immediate threat to a mother’s health or that of her baby, and won’t generally interfere with her having a safe and successful delivery. There are, however, some rare cardiovascular changes that could be cause for concern. These include:
High blood pressure that is not a pre-existing condition is known as pregnancy-induced hypertension, or PIH, and may lead to complications such as swelling, preeclampsia, and toxemia.
Murmurs and Arrhythmias
There are a number of harmless murmurs and arrhythmias that can occur with pregnancy due to the increase in blood volume. These may cause no symptoms and often require no treatment. They could also indicate an underlying heart condition that was previously undiscovered, and should therefore always be looked over by a cardiologist.
Peripartum cardiomyopathy is heart failure that develops at the end of a pregnancy or within the first few months following birth. While it is a rare and potentially serious complication, the condition typically resolves, but mothers who experience it will have an increased risk of complication in future pregnancies.
Fortunately, this dangerous complication is also very rare. Some women may experience a heart attack during the actual pregnancy or within the first few weeks postpartum.
Prenatal heart care
The leading cause of pregnancy-related mortality is cardiovascular disease, which accounts for one in four of all maternal deaths. While it’s standard practice for doctors to measure blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, smoking habits, and body mass in early pregnancy, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released new clinical guidelines in May 2019 recommending all women also be assessed for cardiovascular disease before and after pregnancy.
Though pregnant women have previously been evaluated for heart disease symptoms, the assessments were often not done in a systematic way. The recent guidance from ACOG outlines screening, diagnosis, and management of cardiovascular disease for women from pre-pregnancy to postpartum for better outcomes. ACOG also recommends that women limit their alcohol consumption, don’t smoke, remain physically active, and eat a heart-healthy diet that is low in saturated fats both prior to and during pregnancy.
Improving a woman’s heart health during pregnancy may also benefit her child’s long-term health. Studies have shown that cardiovascular issues in pregnancy can increase the risk of placental disorders, slower fetal growth, and reduced birth weight. This can carry on beyond infancy, as well, with a higher risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and early atherosclerosis for children born to a mother with cardiovascular complications.
Keep your heart healthy during pregnancy with expert care from MOGA
Pregnancy is nature’s own stress test! During this time, the cardiovascular system undergoes major changes to its structure in order to sustain the massive increases in blood volume. That’s why it’s critical to identify any risk factors beforehand.
Our doctors are committed to properly managing expectant mothers’ care throughout pregnancy and into the postpartum period. One way we do this is by treating heart disease as a possibility in every pregnant or postpartum patient we see so that we’re better able to detect and treat at-risk mothers.
Memphis Obstetrics & Gynecological Association, P.C. is the largest private women’s health practice in the Mid-South area, and has been providing superior service to our patients for over 30 years. With dozens of doctors and nurse practitioners available in Memphis, Germantown, Bartlett, and Southaven, we make it easy for you to get the personalized care you need for a happy, heart-healthy pregnancy. You can make an appointment with us by calling our office or schedule one online through our website.