The findings of a large study point to the need to holistically evaluate the health of women of child-bearing age for factors that could put their children – and their own lives – in danger.
Research published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology reveals a relationship between the health of a woman’s heart and her risk for preterm birth, fetal demise, low birthweight, and maternal ICU admission.
Pregnancy prompts multiple changes and challenges to the maternal body. At any age, predisposition to conditions such as diabetes, preeclampsia, or naturally high blood pressure complicates the situation for mom and baby. While obstetric providers may dutifully check blood pressure and other vitals throughout pregnancy, failing to connect the dots between one or more risk factors can be a dangerous practice.
Heart health is especially important during pregnancy because the heart naturally works harder to pump sufficient blood to maintain the health of two individuals. Most women think little of their own risk during pregnancy, but maternal morbidity statistics in the US tell a grim story. In the US, more than 500,000 women suffer life-threatening complications of pregnancy each year, and approximately 700 women die.
The new research analyzed 18 million pregnancies through data collected and maintained by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). Study authors evaluated data for women with four specific risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Those risk factors include smoking, diabetes, hypertension, and higher than healthy body weight. Notes researcher Dr. Sadiya Khan, “Our study now shows a dose-dependent relationship between the number of risk factors and several complications. These data underscore that improving overall heart health before pregnancy needs to be a priority.”
Findings of the study include:
- Average maternal age of the pregnant moms in this study was 28.6 years. Of those in the study, more than 60 percent had one or more of the focus pregnancy risk factors.
- There were 3,242 women ranked with all four risk factors. These mothers had approximately five times the risk of ICU admission when compared with pregnant women with no risk factors. In terms of pregnancy complications, moms with all four risk factors had almost four times higher risk for preterm birth, 2.8 times more risk for low birthweight babies, and 8.7 times higher risk of fetal demise.
- Researchers found similar results in pregnant women with these risk factors who were having their first child. Complications experienced during the first pregnancy were more likely to repeat during subsequent pregnancies.
Dr. Khan notes, “The findings argue for more comprehensive pre-pregnancy cardiovascular assessment rather than focusing on individual risk factors, such as BMI or blood pressure, in isolation. In reality not all pregnancies are planned, but ideally, we would evaluate women well in advance of becoming pregnant so there is time to optimize their health.”
The best time to prepare for pregnancy is before becoming pregnant. That includes locating a physician willing to evaluate all factors that may challenge you—or your unborn baby—during pregnancy.
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