(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – The rate of pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. has more than doubled over the past two decades, and the main cause is heart disease. Experts attribute the rise to an increase in women entering pregnancy with underlying heart issues including high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, but experts say many of these deaths are preventable with proactive care. A new scientific statement from the American Heart Association highlights the importance of a multidisciplinary cardio-obstetrics team to develop a pregnancy-care plan for patients at risk of heart complications during pregnancy.
“It starts with a high-risk obstetrician, but a comprehensive team can evaluate the needs of each patient and bring in other needed specialties,” said Dr. Laxmi Mehta, director of Preventative Cardiology and Women’s Cardiovascular Health at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center who led the development of the scientific statement. “This can include a cardiologist, perhaps a neurologist if there is a risk of stroke, dietitians to recommend lifestyle changes and pharmacists to ensure any prescribed medication is safe during pregnancy.”
Pregnancy puts a lot of extra stress on the body, particularly on the heart, and can quickly make pre-existing conditions much more serious. Anyone with underlying conditions or heart defects should work with their care team to develop a pre-pregnancy plan to protect their cardiovascular health before, during and after pregnancy.
“A lot of women are unaware that having these issues during pregnancy puts them at a higher risk of developing heart disease in the future, and it may surface years down the line,” said Dr. Mehta. “That’s why it is so important for women to continue to see a cardiologist regularly after they’ve delivered their baby.”
Mehta said not every pregnancy requires a cardio-obstetrics team, but it’s a good idea to speak with your obstetrician about your risk factors to determine if extra care is needed.