Pregnancy and childbirth change your body in myriad ways, expanding and contorting to accommodate your growing baby. But stretch marks and a baby bump aren’t the only changes to be worried about.
Below the surface, your body’s systems work overtime to facilitate your pregnancy, especially your cardiovascular system.
Heart problems during pregnancy and childbirth are rare (only complicating 4 in every 100 pregnancies), but they do happen, so being aware of your risk and the potential issues is crucial.
In this blog, Dr. Fahmi Farah and our team at Bentley Heart in Fort Worth, Texas, explore this lesser-known pregnancy complication so you can assess your risk and get the help you need.
The changes your body goes through during pregnancy put extra stress on your body and force your heart to work harder than ever before. Your blood volume increases by 40-50%, your heart rate speeds up by 10-20 beats per minute, and your cardiac output (how much blood your heart pumps) increases by 30-50%.
These changes are a normal part of the biological functioning of pregnancy, but they can make you feel:
Many pregnant women also experience palpitations during their pregnancies.
The danger of these normal changes and symptoms is that they overlap with those associated with heart disease. That means you may have a heart problem and not realize it, especially if you’ve never been concerned about your heart health before you got pregnant.
Those who have pre-existing heart conditions, such as congenital heart disease, cardiomyopathy, heart valve disease, and aortic disease, are at much higher risk for complications during pregnancy.
Because your cardiovascular system endures so much during your pregnancy, it’s very possible to develop a heart problem even when none existed before you got pregnant. Here are some of the most common pregnancy-related heart problems.
Around 1 in 10 pregnant women develop high blood pressure. Your diagnosis can include:
Preeclampsia is a serious condition that can cause both you and your baby harm. Early delivery by C-section is usually the best course of action.
Gestational diabetes is high blood sugar that develops after week 20 of your pregnancy. It’s usually temporary, but any time your blood is saturated with sugar, it puts your heart on notice.
Pregnancy can also cause you to have an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). You can experience two main types during pregnancy: ectopic and supraventricular tachycardia (SVT).
An ectopic heartbeat is simply a faster-than-normal heartbeat, which is usually harmless.
SVT is a fast heartbeat that starts in your heart’s upper chambers and lasts longer than 30 seconds. It’s also more common among those with previous heart problems, but you can get it for the first time during pregnancy.
Some arrhythmias require treatment, while others resolve on their own — it all depends on the severity and frequency of your arrhythmias and whether or not you already have a heart problem.
This pregnancy-related heart condition refers to a weakened heart. We diagnose it later in your pregnancy, in the final month, or within five months postpartum. It stems from the shear stress your heart experiences all 40 weeks of pregnancy and the final push during delivery.
Peripartum cardiomyopathy is rare, complicating 1 in every 3,000-4,000 deliveries, and once you’ve been diagnosed, we strongly advise against future pregnancies.
The best thing you can do for your heart during pregnancy is to have any new or unusual symptoms evaluated quickly. It’s always better to be safe than sorry and bring a potential heart problem to your obstetrician’s attention.
Bentley Heart is a full-service cardiology practice that provides comprehensive cardiovascular testing and consultation. We team up with your obstetrician to make sure you get the help you need during your pregnancy.
We also recommend identifying and managing your cardiac risk factors, including your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, diet, and exercise levels. During your consultation, we guide and support you to keep your heart healthy.
If you have more questions about your heart health during pregnancy, we’d love to talk more with you. Call our friendly staff or use our online booking tool to schedule an appointment with Dr. Farah today.