Pregnancy as a predictor of Heart Health

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Anyone who has been through it knows that pregnancy is tough – physically and emotionally. It is the ultimate stress test of a woman’s body. We in medicine are fascinated at the changes that women undergo to handle the demands of a growing fetus. Blood volume increases, hormones go crazy, and blood vessels change so that the baby gets adequate oxygen and nutrition. The heart pumps much harder and often the heart rate increases.

Many women develop high blood pressure as a result of some of these changes, and the blood pressure often returns to normal levels after delivery. Some women are told they have “preeclapmsia” or “pregnancy-induced hypertension.” We now know that women who have high blood pressure during pregnancy are at increased risk for heart disease later in life. Although it is scary to think about, this is actually good to know. It gives women a little advanced warning, and it gives us all a chance to reduce that risk of heart disease. If you are among the millions of women who had high blood pressure during pregnancy, start taking control now. Know your numbers and talk with you doctor about any other risk factors. We know that treating risk factors and living a healthy lifestyle can greatly reduce your risk. It is NOT set in stone.

The risk for heart disease is also elevated in women with gestational diabetes. Even if diabetes is completely resolved after delivery, the risk of heart disease later in life is increased. Again, this risk can be addressed and reduced. Know your numbers and take control.

Those children that you carried for nine months and have cared for every single day since then will be very glad that you have taken some time to care for yourself.