Lifestyle Heart Health

Pregnancy and Pre-existing Heart Disease

Pregnancy is a memorable and exciting time for expectant mothers, but it can also bring about certain health risks, especially for those with pre-existing heart conditions. Pregnancy stresses your heart and circulatory system as your body adjusts to support your growing baby. However, many women who have heart conditions deliver healthy babies. What are the risks, and how can you help prevent complications? In this blog post, we'll take a closer look at the effects of pregnancy on your heart and circulatory system.

Blood volume increases 30 to 50 percent during pregnancy to nourish your growing baby. Your heart pumps more blood each minute, and your heart rate also increases. These changes help to support the needs of your developing fetus. However, they can also stress your cardiovascular system, especially if you already have a heart condition.

One potential risk is heart rhythm issues. Pregnancy hormones can cause changes in your heart's electrical activity, which may increase your risk of developing arrhythmias. These can cause palpitations, fainting, or even potentially life-threatening cardiac events. Medication or other interventions may sometimes be necessary to control these symptoms during pregnancy.

Another potential risk is heart valve issues. Pregnancy hormones can cause your heart valves to relax, allowing blood to flow backward (regurgitation). The increased blood volume can also cause the heart valves to narrow (stenosis). Both scenarios can cause reduced blood flow to your body and vital organs. Surgery may sometimes be necessary to correct valve problems before or after giving birth.

Congestive heart failure is another potential pregnancy complication, especially for women with pre-existing heart disease. This occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. Symptoms may include shortness of breath, fatigue, and swelling in the legs and feet. Your healthcare provider will monitor you throughout pregnancy to detect and treat any signs of heart failure.

While many women with congenital heart defects can have healthy pregnancies, some may experience more challenges. Lastly, women with congenital heart defects may be at higher risk of complications with pregnancy. In this case, a healthcare provider can develop a plan considering your unique health status.

How should I prepare for pregnancy?

Before trying to conceive, meet with your cardiologist and the healthcare provider handling your pregnancy. This meeting will help you evaluate how well you manage your heart condition and consider any necessary treatment changes before getting pregnant. The doctors will evaluate your risks and suggest medication, treatment plans, or lifestyle adjustments. They may recommend some drugs that are safe to take during pregnancy and may advise against some that are harmful to the baby. If you need surgery, doctors may suggest you do it before getting pregnant, as some surgeries cannot be performed during pregnancy.

During pregnancy, you'll see your healthcare provider frequently. Ensure that you schedule all prenatal appointments and do not miss any. Your healthcare provider will check your weight, blood pressure, and perform frequent blood and urine tests during prenatal visits, typically once a month. You may need to go for check-ups more frequently based on your condition.

Your healthcare provider will monitor your baby's development throughout the pregnancy. You will likely take routine ultrasound exams to track your baby's growth and specialized ultrasounds to detect fetal heart abnormalities. It might be necessary to have a fetal echocardiogram, an ultrasound of the fetus's heart. This test will help their medical team monitor the development of the heart more closely and detect any issues early on. If they detect a problem during the check-up, they may refer you to a pediatric cardiologist.

There are certain things you must do to prevent complications during your pregnancy.

1. Keeping your prenatal appointments and taking your medication as your doctor prescribes is critical.

2. You must also ensure you get plenty of rest and closely monitor your weight gain.

3. As stress and anxiety can cause your blood pressure to rise, you must find ways to manage anxiety, like meditation, relaxation exercises, or counseling. All these activities put additional stress on the heart and can cause severe complications.

4. Women with heart conditions should avoid smoking, alcohol, caffeine, and illegal drugs altogether. Even second-hand smoke can be harmful, so it's best to stay away from smokers.

In summary, pregnancy can stress your heart and circulatory system, especially if you already have a heart condition. However, with proper monitoring and care, many women with heart conditions have healthy pregnancies and deliver healthy babies. The best way to help prevent complications is to work closely with your healthcare provider to develop a personalized plan considering your unique health status. You can help ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy by staying informed and caring for yourself.

*Make sure you consult with your doctor if any concerning symptoms arise so they can provide additional guidance tailored specifically for you.

Respectfully yours,