Debunking Myths: The Impact of Heart Disease on Maternal Health
February, recognized as #HeartMonth, brings attention to the importance of heart health, particularly in women. One commonly held myth is that cardiovascular disease doesn’t significantly impact maternal health. This misconception, debunked by experts from @MassGenBrigham, underscores the crucial understanding of the relationship between heart disease and maternal health.
The Prevalence of Heart Disease in Women
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, with more than 60 million American women living with some form of heart disease. Women should be aware of different types of heart disease, including coronary artery disease, heart rhythm abnormalities, and heart failure. Women may be more susceptible to developing heart disease in the smaller arteries of their heart due to hormonal changes and certain conditions. During pregnancy, particular medical conditions can manifest and influence heart health. Symptoms of heart problems in women may not always be classic, hence it’s important to listen to your body and seek prompt medical attention if you don’t feel right.
Heart Disease, Pregnancy, and Maternal Mortality
The U.S. has seen a doubling in maternal mortality rates, with heart disease and stroke contributing to 1 in 3 of these deaths. Pregnancy and the first year postpartum are important times to monitor for life-long cardiovascular risk. Changes during pregnancy can act as a cardiac stress test and give insight into a patient’s heart health. Recent recommendations from ACOG have shown that blood pressure should be monitored closely and kept below 140/90. Pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes and placental syndromes are important indicators of long-term cardiovascular disease risk.
Importance of Extended Postpartum Care
Accessing long-term care to assess long-term risks is crucial, as many women who do not have insurance can only find coverage for prenatal visits, but this often ends 42 days postpartum. ACOG recommends cardiovascular screening exams at 1 year postpartum for women who experienced certain pregnancy complications. The State of Ohio Legislature approved a provision to extend the current 60-day postpartum Medicaid benefit to one full year, effective from April 1, 2022. This move is aimed at improving postpartum care and addressing disparities, including those related to race and education.
Impact of Pregnancy-Related Conditions on Cardiovascular Health
Studies suggest that routine blood pressure checks following pregnancy can benefit all postpartum women. Additionally, obstetric history can serve as a tool for cardiologists to gauge a woman’s risk for future cardiovascular disease. A severe form of pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting, known as hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), has been found to have implications on the cardiovascular health of offspring. Women with HG had higher rates of miscarriages and smaller fetal and neonatal head and abdominal circumferences. Offspring of women with HG were more likely to have cardiovascular abnormalities, indicating that HG may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease in offspring.
In conclusion, the link between heart disease and maternal health is significant and should not be underestimated. It is vital for women, especially those planning or undergoing pregnancy, to be aware of their cardiovascular health and seek appropriate care. The debunking of this myth during the #HeartMonth serves as a reminder of the importance of heart health in women and the need for continued research and improved healthcare practices in this area.