Occasionally we invite a clinician, who works closely with our certified nurse midwives, to serve as a guest blogger. To observe American Heart Month, we share an important message from The Maternal Fetal Health Center at Overland Park Regional Medical Center, a service of HCA Midwest Health.
Imagine if there was a crystal ball to help us chart our future health—are we at risk for high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, diabetes? If such a glimpse existed, we could be extra-vigilant and proactive about many things that impact our physical well-being, like diet, exercise, sleep, scheduling the correct tests with our midwife or healthcare provider and so on.
Women with high-risk pregnancies have a built-in roadmap, of sorts, that can provide warning signs for high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease and diabetes. About five percent of pregnant women are diagnosed with preeclampsia, a serious condition defined by symptoms like protein in the urine, abnormal swelling, headaches and even vision problems. Another of preeclampsia’s hallmark characteristics are spikes in blood pressure—statistics show that women with this condition during pregnancy are four times as likely to be diagnosed with hypertension later in life.
Emerging research reveals heart disease is a significant long-term threat for women who develop diabetes or high blood pressure during pregnancy. Chances for a heart attack or stroke later in life more than doubles—and it’s higher if preeclampsia was diagnosed during more than one pregnancy.
There are studies, too, that show women diagnosed with high sugar levels during pregnancy—or gestational diabetes—are more prone to the disease later in life.
A high-risk pregnancy and adverse health factors that occur during pregnancy are being recognized more and more as a peek into a woman’s risk for complications not just during pregnancy, but after birth. Here are tips to help you, along with your midwife or healthcare provider, navigate red flags that may present themselves during pregnancy, so you can be prepared post-pregnancy.
Be proactive. Forty-five percent of women know that heart disease is the number one killer of women, yet 26 percent find it embarrassing to discuss with their healthcare provider. Routine care should include a heart risk check. Women with high-risk pregnancies should ask their healthcare provider about their future risk for heart disease—start the conversation. The good news is the 80 percent of heart disease is preventable. In fact, healthcare providers can see heart attacks and strokes coming, often 10 or 20 years ahead of time—if they’re on the lookout.
Get evaluated. The American Heart Association and American Stroke Association recommend that women who have had preeclampsia be evaluated for heart disease risk within a year of giving birth. Some may need medication or referral to a cardiologist.
Annual screenings. Women who have had complications in pregnancy or labor should alert their healthcare provider and have annual screenings for high blood pressure.
Choose a healthy lifestyle. All women, regardless of the type of pregnancies they’ve experienced, should try and lead healthy lifestyles—diet, no smoking, exercise, plenty of sleep— to help prevent heart disease. Remember, too, it’s never too late to change and adopt healthy habits.
Advocate for yourself. If you don’t have a healthcare provider, be sure to find one to ensure you have a yearly maintenance checkup—blood pressure, weight management, heart check, mammogram, etc.
Educate yourself. There are lots of resources to help you during pregnancy and your post-pregnancy healthcare visit. One of those is the Preeclampsia Foundation.
The experienced team at the Maternal Fetal Medicine Center at Overland Park Regional Medical Center helps educate and support women with high-risk pregnancies in many ways, like helping remove the stigma that surrounds women with heart disease by raising awareness and helping them understand heart disease risks and how to manage them. For more information, visit OPRMC.