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Heart Disease & Stroke in Pregnancy

By Deedra Harrington, DNP, MSN, APRN, ACNP-BC

Heart Disease & Stroke in Pregnancy

You rarely hear about heart disease or stroke in pregnancy but it is actually becoming more common as younger women enter pregnancy with ongoing health problems like high blood pressure or diabetes.

Maternal stroke or heart disease is still very rare but on the rise, says the CDC. Across a lifetime, heart disease and stroke are 2 of the leading 3 causes of death for women. These problems also contribute to 1 in 10 pregnancy-related deaths in the US.
A stroke is a bleed in the brain tissue or lack of blood flow to the brain caused by a blood clot or blockage in an artery. Heart disease in pregnancy can be related to diabetes, gestational high blood pressure, preeclampsia, high cholesterol and getting pregnant at an unhealthy weight, such as being obese when conceiving.
If you have any of these health conditions before becoming pregnant, you’re already at an increased risk for problems during pregnancy. As pregnancy progresses, for example, you could be at risk for suffering an event that affects your heart or circulatory system, particularly during labor and following birth.

Be Proactive

If you’re considering pregnancy, be proactive and discuss your health status with your care provider. Talk about your plans and learn how you may be able to minimize your risks of pregnancy complications.
Learn what signs and symptoms to watch out for, such as a sudden, severe headache. Ask when you need to call your care provider or seek immediate care. Most experts agree that any sudden symptom needs immediate attention. You know your own body and health best; it’s always better to ask for advice before any health problem gets out of control.

Reduce your risks

You can reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke during pregnancy by being proactive with your health:

  • Make and keep every prenatal appointment.
  • Make sure your blood pressure remains normal; speak to your healthcare provider if it starts to rise.
  • If you have prediabetes or diabetes, discuss what you need to do to control your blood sugar.
  • Enter pregnancy at the healthiest weight possible.
  • Don’t smoke, and eat a healthy diet before and during pregnancy.

See Care Immediately If You Suddenly Experience

  • A bad headache.
  • Confusion or trouble talking or understanding speech.
  • Numbness or weakness in your face, arm or leg, or mainly on one side of the body.
  • Trouble seeing in one or both eyes, or double vision.
  • Trouble walking, dizziness, vertigo or loss of balance.
  • Face and arm or leg pain.
  • Shortness of breath, especially with chest pain or discomfort.

These Problems Can Complicate Pregnancy

  • Ongoing high blood pressure.
  • Diabetes or prediabetes.
  • Being overweight or obese.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Smoking.
  • An unhealthy diet.

Dr. Deedra Harrington, DNP, MSN, APRN, ACNP-BC, is at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette College of Nursing and Allied Health Professions in Lafayette, LA.

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