Heart Attacks and High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy

pregnant woman having ultrasound

More pregnant women are at risk for heart attacks and other cardiovascular issues during or after childbirth than ever before. A study, released by the New York University School of Medicine, states that the probability for heart attacks for pregnant women from a period from pregnancy to two months after giving birth increased 25% between 2002 and 2014. Pregnancy can cause stress to the heart. Heart attacks are the number one cause of death in the United States but while heart issues are on the rise during pregnancy, the death rate has remained stable. This can be attributed to careful monitoring of a woman’s health prior to, throughout and after pregnancy.

Possible Causes

Among the causes for cardiovascular issues for pregnant women is age. As people age the risk of heart attacks, hypertension (high blood pressure) and strokes increases. More women are delaying having children for a number of reasons and, therefore, the natural increase in cardiovascular risk stays with them as they get older. Other risk factors include a history of high blood pressure and diabetes. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, in 2008 alone, over 90% of pregnant women had some complications. High blood pressure was among the noted causes related to the cardiovascular system.

Risk and Symptoms

High blood pressure results in just over nine percent of hospitalizations during pregnancy. Hypertension can cause damage to the kidneys and other organs. It can also result in premature delivery and low birth weight. High blood pressure in the mother can result in a tightening of the umbilical cord blood vessels, causing a lack of oxygen and the prevention of the flow of proper nutrients to the child.

Gestational hypertension describes high blood pressure that appears in women who have never had it before but develop it during pregnancy. It usually disappears after childbirth. But while a woman is pregnant, it can lead to complications, including preeclampsia and other issues associated with high blood pressure among pregnant women, even though there had been no signs prior to pregnancy.

Preeclampsia, a result of high blood pressure, can cause damage to the liver and kidneys. The risk is greater among women with diabetes or kidney disease. If it appears, it is usually after the first twenty weeks. Symptoms of preeclampsia not only include high blood pressure but severe headaches, shortness of breath or severe abdominal pain. Additionally, nausea, a decrease in urination, a blurring or loss of vision and the lack of proper liver function could be signals. Edema, or swelling, can also be evidence of preeclampsia.

Preeclampsia usually disappears with childbirth. However, some symptoms may remain or develop for as much as six weeks after that takes place. Keeping medical professionals informed after childbirth of any health change is extremely important.

Eclampsia, a more severe result of preeclampsia, is much less common. It can result in seizures and other complications.


There are ways to help prevent cardiovascular issues from appearing during pregnancy. Before pregnancy, or when a woman becomes pregnant, it is important to review medications and health issues with a physician and obstetrician. If there are pre-existing heart issues, a cardiologist should be consulted, as well, especially if medicines for high blood pressure, such as diuretics, beta blockers or others, are already in use.

As with pregnancy not associated with heart disease, weight, exercise and diet should be closely monitored. Limiting salt intake, reducing weight and implementing a healthy diet are important to heart health, whether or not there is a pregnancy. Physical activity is important and should be included in a pregnancy plan. Also, if a person smokes, the use of tobacco should be stopped for the sake of the mother’s and baby’s health. The same goes for alcohol.

As with any cardiovascular health issue, it is important to keep physicians and cardiologists informed of any changes in physical condition during and after pregnancy.

To learn more about cardiovascular issues during pregnancy, log on to vascularhealthclinics.org.

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