From the moment of conception, a woman’s body begins to undergo incredible changes as the process of creating new life begins. These can range from a heightened sense of smell to hormonal shifts to changes in cardiovascular health. Fortunately, most women of childbearing age have a strong, healthy heart with minimal risk of cardiovascular complication during pregnancy. However, there are instances where heart conditions may develop or where a pre-existing condition means an increased risk of complication.
Cardiovascular Changes During Pregnancy
The changes that occur in the cardiovascular system during pregnancy are necessary to ensure that adequate oxygen and nutrients reach the growing fetus. However, these changes can also place added stress on the mother’s heart. Over the course of gestation, a woman’s heart and blood vessels will experience the following:
- Dramatic increase in blood volume and cardiac output of 40 to 50 percent
- An increase in resting heart rate of 10 to 15 beats per minute
- Drops in blood pressure
Existing Heart Conditions and Pregnancy
Having an existing heart condition can certainly complicate pregnancy. Fortunately, in most cases, supervision and care from a skilled cardiologist can help ensure a safe pregnancy and delivery. The degree of intervention needed will depend on the specific type of cardiovascular condition involved, as well as the perceived level of risk to both mother and baby. Diagnoses which may require ongoing monitoring and care include:
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Arrythmia or heart murmur
- Narrowed mitral or aortic valves
- Congenital heart defect
- Previous cardiovascular event
Heart Conditions that can Develop During Pregnancy
While not common, there are some heart conditions that may develop over the course of pregnancy. Most of these pose no immediate threat to the health of the mother or baby and do not prevent the ability to have a safe and successful delivery. However, there are other, rare conditions which can prove dangerous. In any event, the development of cardiovascular changes during pregnancy is cause for concern and continued care with a specialist. Among the conditions that may result from pregnancy are:
- Hypertension – When high blood pressure is not pre-existing, it is known as pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH). This occurs in up to 8 percent of all pregnancies and can lead to complications such as swelling, preeclampsia and toxemia.
- Murmurs and Arrythmias – Increased blood volume is often the source of murmurs that develop during pregnancy, and the condition is typically harmless. Likewise, arrythmias that first appear during pregnancy may cause no symptoms and require no treatment. However, it could also be an indicator of an underlying heart condition that was previously undiscovered. Therefore, a cardiologist should be consulted.
- Peripartum Cardiomyopathy – A rare and potentially serious complication, peripartum cardiomyopathy is heart failure that develops at the end of pregnancy or within the first months following birth. Fortunately, the condition typically resolves. However, mothers who experience this will have an increased risk of complication in future pregnancies.
- Heart Attack – While this complication is fortunately very rare, it is also very dangerous. While the potential causes vary, heart attack can strike some women during their pregnancy or even within the first few weeks postpartum.
Prenatal Heart Care
If you are pregnant and experiencing complications due to a new or existing heart condition, a cardiologist will be a vital member of your health care team. Cardiovascular Institute of the South has locations across south Louisiana and Mississippi and a large team of renowned specialists skilled in all aspects of cardiovascular care. To get started, simply click below to schedule an appointment at the location most convenient to you.