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Mothers-to-be need healthy hearts

woman and baby heartIf you're an expectant mother, your heart belongs entirely to your precious cargo. So taking time to make sure your own heart is healthy and strong should be top of mind. Physical changes during pregnancy can put extra burden on the heart, which can sometimes cause serious complications.

So if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, there is no better time to schedule a heart health assessment through The University of Kansas Hospital’s A Change of Heart® program. In women of childbearing age, heart disease often goes undiagnosed, which can lead to complications during pregnancy like preeclampsia.

What is preeclampsia?

Occurring in 4 to 6 percent of pregnancies, preeclampsia is diagnosed when a woman develops high blood pressure and protein in her urine after the 20th week of pregnancy. In severe cases, it can lead to premature separation of the placenta, hemorrhage, stroke, rupture of the liver, and in rare cases, even death. 

Risk factors for preeclampsia

  • First pregnancy
  • Expecting multiples
  • Obesity
  • Older than 40
  • History of diabetes, high blood pressure or kidney disease

“We don’t know what causes preeclampsia, but we do know these risk factors put women at a much higher risk of developing it than those who were at their ideal weight and exercising regularly before pregnancy,” said cardiologist Ashley Simmons, MD, medical director of The University of Kansas Hospital’s Adelaide C. Ward Women’s Heart Health Center.

Pregnancy and heart disease program

The good news: With expert care and monitoring, women with heart disease can have normal pregnancies and healthy babies. The pregnancy and heart disease program at the hospital’s Center for Advanced Heart Care is uniquely designed for women who have or may have cardiovascular disease and are pregnant or planning to become pregnant.

A multidisciplinary team of cardiologists, obstetricians, peripartum nurses and other specialists has the depth of experience to manage preeclampsia and all other complexities of pregnancy and heart disease.

Negative effects on the heart

While preeclampsia ends with the baby’s delivery, the effects on the mother and her heart can be serious and long-lasting. Those diagnosed with preeclampsia are:

  • Nearly four times more likely to develop high blood pressure
  • Twice as likely to suffer from heart disease and stroke
  • Seven times more likely to develop heart disease if preeclampsia was diagnosed before 37 weeks
  • More likely to develop preeclampsia in future pregnancies

Care for your heart

That’s why expert cardiologists talk with new mothers about their heart risks immediately after delivery. Outpatient programs like the hospital’s Risk Reduction Clinic help people understand their increased risks and make choices to improve their heart health. 

“A new mother is facing one of the biggest changes in her life,” Dr. Simmons said. “It’s a good time to get blood pressure and cholesterol on target, restart an exercise regime and make healthier food choices.”

The University of Kansas Hospital was recently named among 100 top hospitals for women’s health programs in Becker's Hospital Review.

To schedule a heart health assessment or learn more about the Risk Reduction Clinic, call 913.588.1227.