By Donna Andrews, MSN
Donna Andrews, MSN, is a certified nurse midwife at Lexington Women’s Care, a Lexington Medical Center physician practice. Certified nurse midwives are advanced practice nurses who provide OB/GYN care for women throughout their lives. Here’s what she had to say about heart health during pregnancy.
A woman’s body produces 30 to 50 percent more blood during pregnancy. That can tax the heart and kidneys, and sometimes leave her short of breath. For most women, these changes do not cause lasting harm.Often, pregnancy is a woman’s first encounter with regular health visits and screenings. Urine, heart and blood pressure checks happen at every visit. An unusual result may require further tests for cardiac issues. We may discover hidden or even congenital heart problems such as heart murmurs, irregular heart rhythms or heart valve problems.
The trend of older women becoming pregnant raises the risk for serious issues including congestive heart failure, pulmonary hypertension and even stroke, as the heart, kidneys, heart valves and arteries become strained.
A new diagnosis of high blood pressure during pregnancy is a warning sign for preeclampsia, a potentially dangerous condition that prevents the placenta from receiving adequate blood flow and may threaten the health and life of mother and child. We also screen for high blood pressure because women who have it during pregnancy have a 40 percent chance of it continuing after the baby is born.
Because the heart plays a critical role for both the mother and baby, it’s important to be aware of danger signs that can flag serious issues: difficulty breathing or shortness of breath with exertion; rapid heart rate; chest pain; coughing at night or a bloody cough; and infrequent urination. Because so many issues can be identified early and treated, keeping monthly prenatal appointments is a critical factor for long-term health.
Throughout the entire pregnancy, we encourage daily exercise. Something as simple as a 30-minute walk each day can help pregnant women stay within the parameters of healthy weight gain. We know that gaining too much during pregnancy can damage the heart, even after the baby is born.
It’s easy to say when someone is feeling winded or tired that ‘it’s just pregnancy.’ But we need to listen to women and be sensitive to all of their needs. We take care of women for a lifetime. Our work is mostly prevention. If we can teach women about becoming healthier, it contributes to better health overall.