High blood pressure during pregnancy can put you at risk for heart disease

High blood pressure at any time can be dangerous, and during pregnancy is no exception. It can set you up for heart issues later in life. Here’s what you need to know.

Hypertension during pregnancy and preeclampsia can indicate heart disease or other cardiovascular conditions later in a woman’s life.

High blood pressure during pregnancy, also known as gestational hypertension, can be common. Preeclampsia is high blood pressure and protein in the urine during pregnancy, which affects organs in the body such as the liver and kidneys. These complications during pregnancy are indicators for an increased chance of heart disease later in life.

Because heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in women, if you’ve experienced either gestational high blood pressure or preeclampsia, you need to be vigilant about your heart health for the rest of your life.

Norton Heart & Vascular Institute Women’s Heart Program

The Norton Heart & Vascular Institute Women’s Heart Program has a team of providers with expertise caring for women experiencing symptoms related to heart disease from strain on their heart during pregnancy. 

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“Scientists are still studying the link but believe that preeclampsia and gestational hypertension don’t actually cause future cardiovascular disease — rather, bodily changes during pregnancy unmask a woman’s underlying risk for cardiovascular disease, or the presence of heart disease that hadn’t been diagnosed before,” said Lyndsey D. Neese, M.D., OB/GYN with Norton OB/GYN Associates and medical director for obstetrics, Norton Healthcare. “In that sense, having a personal history of preeclampsia is similar to having a family history of heart disease or stroke.”

Women who have had gestational high blood pressure or preeclampsia are three to four times more likely to develop high blood pressure as early as five years after delivery compared with women who had pregnancies with no complications. They also have at least two times the risk for heart disease, including plaque buildup, heart attack, congestive heart failure or cardiomyopathy, which causes an enlarged heart.

“If you have a history of these high blood pressure during pregnancy or preeclampsia, it’s imperative you let your health care provider know and get regular checkups to keep tabs on your heart health,” Dr. Neese said. “You can decrease your risk by following the American Heart Association’s lifestyle recommendations. These include making healthy food choices, exercising, quitting smoking and practicing stress management.”

Symptoms of high blood pressure during pregnancy include:

  • Severe headaches
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Excess protein in urine (a urine sample is gathered at each doctor visit during pregnancy)
  • Changes in vision
  • Upper abdominal pain

High blood pressure during pregnancy can lead to preeclampsia. It is important to keep your appointments with your health care providers so they can monitor your blood pressure and protein in your urine.

Collaborating to care for a woman’s heart

Many cardiac-related conditions during pregnancy can cause postpartum complications and indicate an increased risk for a future cardiac event and heart disease. In collaboration with OB/GYN providers, Norton Heart & Vascular Institute Women’s Heart Program works closely with postpartum patients to develop a care plan and treatment to prevent future heart issues or slow the progression of heart disease.  Norton Children’s Maternal-Fetal Medicine, part of Norton Women’s Care, provides care to women with high-risk pregnancies and their babies. Together with the Women’s Heart Program, concerns during pregnancy, including hypertension, preeclampsia and eclampsia, arrhythmia, and heart failure can be treated to prevent damage to your heart during a pregnancy.

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