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Understanding the Link between Pregnancy-Related Factors and Future Heart Problems in Women

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Medriva Correspondents
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Understanding the Link between Pregnancy-Related Factors and Future Heart Problems in Women

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Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in women, particularly in the United States. A significant factor contributing to this rising concern is pregnancy-related complications, which are now being recognized as a prominent indicator of future heart problems in women. Dr. Sharonne Hayes, among other researchers, has emphasized the importance of understanding and addressing this link to promote proactive measures for women's heart health.

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The Association between Hypertensive Disorders of Pregnancy and Cardiovascular Disease

Observational studies highlight that hypertensive disorders of pregnancy (HDPs), including pre-eclampsia, eclampsia, and gestational hypertension, are associated with unfavorable cardiovascular risk profiles in women later in life. According to a study involving over 221,000 ever-pregnant women, genetic liability to HDPs is correlated with higher CVD risk, lower blood pressure levels, and earlier hypertension diagnosis. While the specific biological mechanisms linking HDPs and CVD risk are not entirely clear, these findings suggest that pregnancy allows for earlier identification of women at higher CVD risk. However, further research is needed to better understand HDPs' role in the development of CVD.

Importance of Cardiovascular Risk Assessment During Pregnancy

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Women should ask their OB-GYNs about the potential impact of pregnancy on their heart health, the effects of birth control on the heart, potential symptoms during and after pregnancy that could indicate heart problems, and the long-term effects of pregnancy complications on heart health. Optimizing health before pregnancy can prevent complications for both mother and child. This can be achieved by maintaining a healthy weight, staying physically active, eating a healthy diet, controlling blood pressure, and ensuring blood glucose levels are within normal range. Pregnancy complications such as gestational hypertension, preeclampsia, and gestational diabetes can significantly affect long-term heart health, increasing the risk of heart problems.

The Risk among Hispanic Women

Studies show that on average, Hispanic women develop heart disease 10 years earlier than non-Hispanic women. Furthermore, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy have more than doubled in the United States between 2007 and 2019, with over 60 cases per 1,000 live births in Hispanic women. Women with a history of pregnancy complicated by hypertensive disorder have alterations in heart contraction and relaxation, increased thickness of the heart wall, and higher rates of abnormal geometry in the left ventricle - all indicators of future cardiovascular disease. Regular heart health screenings, including echocardiograms for women who had high blood pressure during pregnancy, are strongly recommended.

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Managing Personal Risk Factors

Pregnancy can expose risks to heart health and cause new problems to emerge, such as high blood pressure and gestational diabetes. Managing personal risk factors, such as family history, lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating, and smoking, is crucial to prevent heart disease. African American and Hispanic/Latina women, who are at higher risk for heart disease due to health conditions like high blood pressure, overweight, and diabetes, should pay particular attention to these factors.

Specialized Care for Women with Cardiovascular Conditions

The Lehigh Valley Heart Vascular Institute's Heart Disease and Pregnancy Program provides preconception counseling for women with cardiovascular conditions, ensuring better education and awareness about potential complications during pregnancy. This program also provides high-risk obstetrics care, emphasizing the importance of cross-specialty communication between cardiologists and OB-GYNs. Such specialized care programs are essential to ensure a healthy pregnancy for both mother and baby and to reduce cardiovascular risk in women with cardiac complications like preeclampsia.

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