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%, 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.

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
  • 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

  • Avoid alcohol
  • Avoid smoking
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet
  • No more than 7-8 hours of sleep per day.
  • Exercise under the directions of your doctor.
  • If you're overweight, talk to your doctor about weight-loss options.
  • Manage stress
  • Make and keep appointments to see your doctor for routine check-ups and follow-up tests.

Medications
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.

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

Pregnancy and Heart Disease Treatment & Care

offered at these locations in your neighborhood

View All Locations