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At the Heart of Pregnancy Health

At the Heart of Pregnancy Health

Throughout your pregnancy, you will find yourself focusing on the health of your unborn baby. From taking your prenatal vitamins to eating healthy and drinking plenty of water, it is only natural to take steps to protect that little one growing inside your belly. But it’s also important to prioritize your health, too, especially as pregnancy can put a strain on your body, including your heart.

In honor of American Heart Month, we have the beat on some pregnancy-related heart risks and some tips to help you maintain a healthy heart during and after your pregnancy.

Heart Risk #1: High Blood Pressure

One in 25 pregnancies will be impacted by preeclampsia, a condition in which pregnant women experience high blood pressure. While this often ceases after delivery, preeclampsia poses a risk of complications for both moms-to-be and their unborn child.

Watch for symptoms of preeclampsia around, or after, 20-weeks of pregnancy. High blood pressure is often an early sign that can be caught during a prenatal visit. Additionally, preeclampsia symptoms include protein in urine, kidney or liver problems, new developments of decreased platelets, difficulty breathing or fluid in the lungs, headaches, vision changes, abdominal pain and rapid swelling.

Healthy Heart Tip: You can help control your risk of developing preeclampsia by continuing with scheduled prenatal visits, tracking your blood pressure at home (if needed), exercising regularly and limiting your salt intake.

Heart Risk #2: Gestational Diabetes

Six out of 100 women will develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy, which increases the risk of heart problems.

Gestational diabetes develops when blood sugar is too high. Testing is usually done between weeks 24 and 28 of pregnancy via a glucose test. While gestational diabetes can resolve after delivery, some women are at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Healthy Heart Tip: Eating sensibly sized nutritious and balanced meals, exercising regularly and monitoring weight gain throughout your pregnancy are simple steps you can take to help prevent gestational diabetes.

Heart Risk #3: Stroke

For some women, pregnancy can increase the risk of stroke, a condition in which blood flow to the brain is blocked or a blood vessel in the brain ruptures. While rare, the heavy demands of pregnancy, combined with changing hormones, can increase the risk of stroke.

Women of color are at highest risk of stroke during pregnancy, and strokes are more likely to occur during the first 12-weeks of pregnancy as well as during the third trimester. Stroke risks increase with high blood pressure during pregnancy, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes and blood clots.

Stroke symptoms often appear suddenly and include:

  • Face drooping
  • Arm weakness
  • Speech difficulty
  • Numbness of the face, arm or leg (often on one side)
  • Confusion
  • Issues with vision
  • Dizziness or loss of balance and/or coordination
  • Trouble walking
  • Severe headache (without a known cause)

Healthy Heart Tip: Healthy lifestyle choices such as not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, exercising moderately (aim for 30 minutes on most days) and following the recommendations from your medical provider and attending your regularly scheduled prenatal visits, can help reduce your risk of stroke.

Heart Risk #4: Congenital Heart Disease

Prior to pregnancy, some women are already managing heart disease due to a congenital heart defect, which is often present at birth and can impact the heart’s ability to work properly. Women with heart defects may be at higher risk to develop anemia, hemorrhaging or high blood pressure during pregnancy. However, in most cases women with congenital heart disease can still have a safe and healthy pregnancy.

Healthy Heart Tip: If you are managing a heart condition, talk to your medical care team, including your cardiologist. They can direct you on the risks as well as ensure any medications you take are safe for you and your growing baby.

Let’s get to the heart of it! Yes, pregnancy can put a strain on your body. Your hormones are changing and your body (and baby) is growing. But there are proactive steps you can take to protect the health of you and your baby—and help maintain a healthy heart during and after your pregnancy.

We encourage you to take a moment to slow down and focus on your heart health, especially in honor of American Heart Month. Our team of medical providers are here to help ensure you don’t miss a beat when it comes to managing your pregnancy and delivery. To learn more, or to find a physician, click here.