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Pregnancy and Heart Disease

Pregnant women are especially vulnerable to a variety of medical conditions and issues that can threaten their and their children’s lives. Pregnancy is like a physiologic stress test for woman’s heart and circulatory systems; it can pose serious risks not only for the approaching birth but also cause serious long-term complications for the mother. Even healthy mothers can experience heart problems during pregnancy.

During pregnancy, a woman’s blood volume typically increases from 30 to 50 percent, all in order to provide nourishment for the growing fetus. However, as blood volume increases, so does the amount of work the heart has to perform. A pregnant woman’s heart has to exert twice as much effort to circulate the increased blood volume.

During labor and delivery, blood pressure and heart rate can drastically change, putting additional strain on the heart muscle. After the birth of the baby, the heart muscle can be stressed as extra volume returns to circulation from placenta and reabsorbs from the body.

Women with pre-existing heart disease may experience worsening in their condition and have more severe signs and symptoms at any time during pregnancy, labor, delivery, and postpartum. Cardiac complications may manifest themselves at any time during a pregnancy or within a year after what seemed to be a normal pregnancy.

If you are pregnant and your OB/GYN or primary care doctor recommends that you see a cardiologist, contact us and we will connect you with an RWJBarnabas Health doctor who has expertise in pregnancy and heart disease.

Causes of Heart Disease During Pregnancy

A pregnant woman’s body undergoes a variety of changes to ensure the safety, comfort, and nutrition of the baby inside her. The cardiovascular system is one of the organ systems that undergo many changes, which in turn can affect the individual’s cardiovascular and general health. The changes in the woman’s circulatory and cardiovascular systems begin in her first trimester; typically peaking during the second, plateauing in the third trimester, before normalizing or disappearing during year after the baby is born. Some of the risk factors for developing heart disease during pregnancy include:

Non-Modifiable Risk Factors: These factors are irreversible and cannot be changed. The more of these risk factors you have, the greater your chance of developing heart disease:

Modifiable Risk Factors: These factors can be modified, treated or controlled through medications or lifestyle changes:

  • Alcohol and/or drug abuse during pregnancy.
  • Obesity or having a body mass index “BMI” of 30 or greater.
  • Poor nutrition before and during the pregnancy.
  • Diabetes: When your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high.
  • High blood pressure

Symptoms of Heart Disease During Pregnancy

Heart disease during pregnancy can cause the following signs and symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Lightheadedness/Fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia) of more than 100 beats per minute.
  • Increased need to urinate at night.
  • Persistent cough
  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Swelling of feet, hands, ankles, and arms.

Diagnosis of Heart Disease During Pregnancy

To diagnose heart problems, your doctor will take a careful medical history, review your symptoms and perform a physical examination. To find out how your heart condition is affecting your pregnancy, your doctor may do the following diagnostic tests and procedures:

Additional testing may be required after pregnancy.

Treatment of Heart Disease During Pregnancy

Treatment for heart disease during pregnancy involves a balance of the right lifestyle changes, and in some cases, medications. Treatment options include lifestyle changes and medications.

Lifestyle Changes


Medication you take during pregnancy can affect your baby. Often the benefits outweigh the risks, however. If you need medication to control your heart condition, your health care provider will prescribe the safest medication at the most appropriate dose. Take the medication exactly as prescribed. Don't stop taking the medication or adjust the dose on your own.

Request an Appointment

At RWJBarnabas Health, we aim to give you the best chance at a healthy pregnancy and successful delivery. If you are pregnant and need cardiac care, make an appointment with one of our expert New Jersey cardiac specialists as soon as possible.

Request an Appointment

Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center
94 Old Short Hills Road
Livingston, NJ 07039
(973) 322-5000
Monmouth Medical Center
300 Second Avenue
Long Branch, NJ 07740
(732) 222-5200
Clara Maass Medical Center
1 Clara Maass Drive
Belleville, NJ 07109
(973) 450-2000
Community Medical Center
99 Highway 37 West
Toms River, NJ 08755
(732) 557-8000
Newark Beth Israel Medical Center
201 Lyons Avenue at Osborne Terrace
Newark, NJ 07112
(973) 926-7000
Jersey City Medical Center
355 Grand Street
Jersey City, NJ 07302
(201) 915-2000
RWJ University Hospital Rahway
865 Stone Street
Rahway, NJ 07065
(732) 381-4200
RWJ University Hospital Somerset
110 Rehill Avenue
Somerville, NJ 08876
(908) 685-2200
RWJ University Hospital Hamilton
1 Hamilton Health Place
Hamilton, NJ 08690
(609) 586-7900
Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
1 Robert Wood Johnson Place
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
(732) 828-3000
Monmouth Medical Center Southern Campus
600 River Avenue
Lakewood, NJ 08701
(732) 363-1900

Pregnancy and Heart Disease Treatment & Care

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