Ticker Trouble Surfaces In New Study

A recent study on death during pregnancy determined that, in California, heart disease is the top killer. How can that number be lowered?

Stethoscope and heart disease

Thinking about death during pregnancy is certainly a grim topic. But death from pregnancy-related complications tripled in a 10-year span in California (where about one out of eight babies in the U.S. are born) and experts said that nearly one third of these could be prevented.

The study

The study was funded by the California Department of Public Health, Maternal Child and Adolescent Health Division. Researchers examined the health records of 732 women who died either during their pregnancy or within one year of their child’s birth. They found that 209 had died from pregnancy-related complications, and around one quarter of that number from heart disease. The study also found that only six percent of those women had been diagnosed with heart disease prior to pregnancy.

Further, 25 percent of women were found to have been diagnosed with high blood pressure during pregnancy. A full third of women didn’t seek help, 10 percent refused to follow their doctor’s orders or recommendations and 27 percent didn’t think their symptoms were heart-related.

Those most at risk of developing heart disease were women who were overweight or obese, African American or had a substance abuse problem.

Being proactive

“In pregnancy and after pregnancy if there are any cardiac symptoms, there should be a workup more aggressively,” said study author Afshan Hameed, an associate professor of maternal fetal medicine and cardiology at the University of California at Irvine. “We should pay attention to the symptoms, to the clinical clues.”

Many women experience fatigue or shortness of breath during pregnancy, which can be a normal pregnancy affliction, but these symptoms can also be a clue that there is a heart problem.

If you have heart-related symptoms, don’t hesitate to have them checked out. I developed an arrhythmia during my last pregnancy that scared the pants off me. I had palpitations and my heart was skipping beats every now and then, and it started early — at nearly four weeks. I got fitted with a heart monitor right away, had an echocardiogram and eventually was admitted as a heart patient, but doctors discovered that I was experiencing benign PVCs, which feel bad but aren’t dangerous. But it was good that I got checked out because you don’t want to wait.

More on prenatal health

Infant mortality awareness month: Prenatal care
Understanding prenatal test results
Parents of large families may be at higher heart risk

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