Heart Disease is the Leading Cause of Pregnancy Deaths

Even though heart disease is a huge issue amongst women—and pregnant women—just about the only time you hear about heart health for females is during The Heart Truth red fashion show, or on the side of a Diet Coke can. Well, now there’s even more reason to pay attention. Heart disease is the top cause of pregnancy-related deaths in California and likely throughout the U.S, finds a new study funded by the California Department of Public Health, Maternal Child and Adolescent Health Division. The good news is that many heart-related pregnancy deaths could be prevented.

According to the National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute, heart disease can begin early, even in the teen years, and women in their 20s and 30s need to take action to reduce their risk of developing heart disease. Of U.S. women ages 18 and older, 17 percent are current smokers, 52 percent are overweight, 27 percent have hypertension, 35 percent have high cholesterol, and 53 percent do not meet physical activity recommendations—all things that contribute to heart disease. And within that, African American and Hispanic women have even higher chances of being diagnosed with heart disease. More than 80 percent of midlife African American women are overweight or obese, 52 percent have hypertension, and 14 percent have been diagnosed with diabetes. Some 83 percent of midlife Hispanic women are overweight or obese, and more than 10 percent have been diagnosed with diabetes.

According to Bloomberg, “Researchers in the study examined the medical records of 732 women who died while pregnant or within one year of their pregnancy and found that 209 of the deaths were pregnancy related. Of those, 51, or about one quarter, were from some form of heart disease. Only about 6 percent of those women had been diagnosed with heart disease before pregnancy, the study found.

About 25 percent of women who died of heart causes were diagnosed with high blood pressure during their pregnancies, the paper showed. One third of patients who died had failed to seek care or delayed care, 10 percent refused medical advice and 27 percent didn’t identify their symptoms as heart related, the study found. The research also showed that the majority of those who died received incorrect or delayed diagnoses or doctors had given them ineffective or inappropriate treatments.”

Those most at risk of dying from pregnancy-related heart disease were found to be African American, obese, or women who had a previous substance addiction. About one-third of the deaths could have been prevented by patient awareness and better diagnosis and treatment.

Symptoms of heart disease include shortness of breath, being extremely fatigued, swelling of the legs, ankles or feet—things pregnant women often experience anyway, so pregnant women are less likely to complain to their doctors about the circumstances, and therefore heart disease can go undetected. So if something seems a little out of sorts (especially if it includes chest pain or numbness of your limbs), trust your instincts and call your doctor immediately!

For some reason, women are quick to jump to the aid of everyone else around them, and we tend to forget about taking care of ourselves. Taking time to workout should not be seen as a luxury, but a necessity—not just for you, but your baby too. And though it’s easier and quicker to pick up fast food on the go (especially when you have a really bad pregnancy craving for French fries), remember that a well-balanced diet is better for your heart, and your baby in the long run.

TELL US: Does heart disease run in your family? Do you have pregnancy-related heart disease?

Image of Heart Health courtesy of Shutterstock.

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