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Heart disease and pregnancy
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

Heart disease and pregnancy

Pregnancy is often referred to as the “ultimate stress test” for the body.

3 min read
As general advice, pregnant women are encouraged to eat a healthy diet, participate in regular physical activity, quit smoking, maintain a healthy weight and not drink alcohol during their pregnancy.

Pregnancy is often referred to as the “ultimate stress test” for the body. A woman’s blood volume increases by 30-50% over the course of her pregnancy. Labour and delivery exact a further toll on the body producing abrupt changes in blood flow and pressure, forcing the heart to work harder. 

If you experienced complications in pregnancy like preeclampsia or gestational diabetes, or have a pre-existing heart condition, make sure you discuss this with your healthcare team when planning a first pregnancy or subsequent pregnancies.

What complications can arise during pregnancy?

Most women will have a perfectly normal pregnancy, but a small number will have some sort of complication that may increase their blood pressure or their blood sugar levels.

These complications can include:
  • High blood pressure 
  • Pre-eclampsia
  • Gestational diabetes
If you have any of these complications you will also be closely monitored by your health team throughout your pregnancy.

If you experienced these types of complications during your pregnancy, let your doctor know so they can keep an eye on your heart.

What is pre-eclampsia?

Pre-eclampsia is a disorder that is unique to pregnancy. It affects some pregnant women during the second half of pregnancy or immediately after delivery of their baby.

Women with pre-eclampsia have high blood pressure, fluid retention and protein in their urine.

Women diagnosed with pre-eclampsia are at increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease later in life compared to women who did not experience this condition

It is recommended that women who have had pre-eclampsia during pregnancy have an annual blood pressure check and regular assessment of other heart disease risk factors.

If you experienced preeclampsia during pregnancy and have not had regular blood pressure or heart health check, talk to your doctor so they can monitor and help manage your risk.

What is gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy and is diagnosed when higher than normal blood glucose levels appear during pregnancy. 

While the mother’s blood glucose usually returns to normal after the birth of the baby, women who have experienced gestational diabetes have an increased risk of developing Type II diabetes and heart disease in later life.

If you experienced gestational diabetes talk to your doctor about monitoring your heart health and managing your risk.

What should I do if I have a pre-existing heart condition?

Women with pre-existing heart conditions are encouraged to see their doctor before trying to conceive. They may also need closer monitoring throughout their pregnancy.

Because of the increased stress pregnancy and labour put on the heart, it is important that any woman with a pre-existing heart condition is assessed by a cardiologist before becoming pregnant.

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