Hello again from COR! We hope you had a happy and healthy holiday. Our last post introduced the Women’s Heart Clinic and today, we will be focusing on a condition that specifically affects women. Keep reading to learn more about the link between pregnancy complications and the development of heart disease.
Pregnancy is experienced by the majority of women and has been referred to as a “stress test”. During pregnancy, a woman’s heart and vascular system undergo a variety of normal changes to accommodate the baby’s development. These changes include increased heart rate, lower blood pressure, and greater circulating blood volume. When there are issues with these adaptations, pregnancy complications can result.
Pregnancy complications, or adverse pregnancy outcomes (APOs), are a widespread issue that occurs in up to 20% of pregnancies. APOs include pregnancy loss, gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension (high blood pressure), preeclampsia, eclampsia, delivering a small baby, placental abruption, and preterm delivery. With increasing maternal age and the ongoing obesity epidemic, the prevalence of these complications is increasing. Though the exact reason for some of these APOs is undefined, there is thought to be an overlap between pregnancy complications and cardiovascular disease. The evidence suggests that being diagnosed with APOs is related to a higher risk of developing heart disease, including coronary heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, heart failure, and stroke. This is why the American Heart Association stresses the importance of screening for APOs as part of the risk assessment in women.
Unfortunately, women who experience an APO may be unaware of the long-term risk of this diagnosis. It may also go under-recognized by the medical community. This is a vital missed opportunity to monitor and treat cardiovascular risk factors, including blood pressure, weight, cholesterol, and lifestyle factors.
If you have been diagnosed with a pregnancy complication in the past, we urge you to be your own health advocate and seek further care. It is never too early to take charge of your health. Through individualized assessments, blood testing, counseling on risk factor modification, lifestyle changes, and medications, we can aim to prevent the development of cardiovascular disease in women who have experienced APOs.
We hope you enjoyed learning about the link between adverse pregnancy outcomes and heart disease. As always, stay healthy, and remember to keep your heart in mind!
Until next time,
Nadia J. Curran, MD