Pregnancy-related deaths in the United States have doubled over the past two decades

Credit: Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WLNS) – Heart disease is a leading cause of death during or following pregnancy, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Underlying issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol have increased the rate of pregnancy-related deaths in the United States, according to a statement by the American Heart Association. As a result, pregnancy-related deaths have more than doubled over the past two decades in the U.S.

The AHA statement emphasizes the importance of a multidisciplinary cardio-obstetrics team to develop a pregnancy-care plan for patients at risk of heart complications during pregnancy.

“It starts with a high-risk obstetrician, but a comprehensive team can evaluate the needs of each patient and bring in other needed specialties,” said Dr. Laxmi Mehta, director of Preventative Cardiology and Women’s Cardiovascular Health at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center who led the development of the scientific statement. “This can include a cardiologist, perhaps a neurologist if there is a risk of stroke, dietitians to recommend lifestyle changes and pharmacists to ensure any prescribed medication is safe during pregnancy.”

Pregnancy puts a lot of extra stress on the body, particularly on the heart, and can quickly make pre-existing conditions much more serious. During pregnancy, women’s hearts are working 30 to 50% harder at rest.

Dr. Mehta said not every pregnancy requires a cardio-obstetrics team, but it’s a good idea to speak with your obstetrician about your risk factors to determine if extra care is needed.

Anyone with underlying conditions or heart defects should work with their care team to develop a pre-pregnancy plan to protect their cardiovascular health before, during, and after pregnancy.

“A lot of women are unaware that having these issues during pregnancy puts them at a higher risk of developing heart disease in the future, and it may surface years down the line,” said Dr. Mehta. “That’s why it is so important for women to continue to see a cardiologist regularly after they’ve delivered their baby.”

Dr. Laxmi Mehta examines a patient for cardiovascular risk factors. She led the development of a new scientific statement from the American Heart Association that outlines heart-related complications during pregnancy and the need for a personalized care plan for those at risk. Credit: Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

Health experts are just beginning to see maternal cardiac disease and heart disease as a major threat not only to women’s long-term cardiovascular health but to safe motherhood, said Dr. Yalda Afshar, an assistant professor in the Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UCLA Health.

Pregnancy-related deaths in the United States have jumped from 7.2 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1987 to almost 17 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. African American women are at a substantially higher risk for pre-existing heart conditions, according to a report by CNN.

One way to look out for your heart is to check your blood pressure, according to the U.S. Office of Women’s Health.

Many pharmacies have blood pressure monitors where you can check your blood pressure for free.

Check your blood pressure often, write down your readings along with the time of day as well as your recent activities, and see your healthcare provider.

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