Women's Health

How to Stay Heart Healthy While Pregnant

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By Deirdre Mattina, M.D.

A woman’s body goes through a tremendous amount of change during pregnancy. From hormonal shifts to odd food cravings, and even just the amazing act of housing a new, growing being, there’s a lot going on – and that includes the way your heart works.

Most heart-related changes during pregnancy are the result of increased volume – which is completely normal. The heart has to work harder because it’s circulating blood for two people instead of one.

In most cases, it’s rare for a cardiologist to be involved in the pregnancy process. In fact, for many women, especially those who are active and healthy before becoming pregnant, the heart is strong enough to outlast the marathon of pregnancy without any complications. As cardiologists, we refer to pregnancy as the first stress test for most women. If your heart handles pregnancy with ease, you’re doing something right.

For those who have heart conditions, or simply a weak heart to begin with, problems can arise due to the natural increase in your heart’s workload during pregnancy that can lead to issues like high blood pressure or heart failure.

Because of the growing obesity trend in America, cardiologists are finding problems associated with being overweight are leading to difficulties throughout the pregnancy. For example, having high blood pressure before you’re pregnant – a common side effect of being overweight — can lead to preeclampsia or eclampsia, which can eventually lead to organ damage or seizures.

In addition, women who have an underlying heart condition or congenital heart problems often face complications while pregnant. In today’s age of medicine, women with these heart conditions are now living into adulthood – and more and more of them are becoming mothers – so cardiologists face new challenges of helping these mothers through a safe pregnancy.

For most women, it’s simply a matter of using pregnancy-safe medications to lower blood pressure. In other cases, we may have to perform interventional procedures or temporarily open heart valves to help the heart successfully manage the increase in volume. In certain very high-risk situations, pregnancy is not advised as it poses too much risk.

Preserving heart health during pregnancy
How can you preserve your heart health when you are expecting? Hint: it starts before pregnancy.

The healthier you are before you become pregnant, the higher the likelihood of a smooth, healthy pregnancy. It’s important to hydrate with water – and avoid unhealthy options like sugar-filled beverages, artificial sweeteners and caffeine, which can further increase pressure.

Over the course of a pregnancy, it’s natural for women to become less active, but for most heart patients, maintaining some level of activity through simply walking can help keep your heart strong.

For women who suffered complications during their pregnancy, such as gestational diabetes pre-term delivery or low birth weight, the risk of having some sort of heart or vascular issue is increased in the years after that pregnancy, and may increase the risk of complications with subsequent pregnancies.

Above all, regardless of the heart or other complications you faced during your pregnancy, it’s important to evaluate your lifestyle in the weeks and months afterward and determine where improvements can be made – especially if you plan on having more children.

How healthy is your heart? Take the quiz and find out. Then, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider or find a heart expert at henryford.com or by calling 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).