Pregnancy and Heart Disease

Consult with the maternal-fetal medicine team.

Heart disease in pregnancy or after delivery can be treated and successfully managed. As you take so much care to give your baby a wonderful new life, be sure to take care of yourself. Most patients have healthy pregnancies and babies. Understanding that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death during pregnancy and after pregnancy might encourage more people to prioritize their health.

Pumping blood through your body and your unborn baby’s puts extra stress on your heart and blood vessels. Any cardiovascular condition you had before can worsen during pregnancy. New conditions also can appear.

Even if you didn’t have any heart issues before your pregnancy, heart disease can emerge during pregnancy, while you’re in labor and for up to a year after delivery. High blood pressure, diabetes and preeclampsia are some of the most common conditions affecting your heart during pregnancy.

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Serious health conditions are becoming more common during pregnancy, especially among women of color. Black women can have up to four times higher risk for conditions related to high blood pressure in pregnancy.

Regular blood pressure checks during pregnancy are a key part of catching any issues before they worsen and cause long-term damage.

If your blood pressure rises, your obstetrician may refer you to a maternal-fetal medicine specialist and cardiologist who specializes in women’s heart health. Specialists with Norton Children’s Maternal-Fetal Medicine, a part of Norton Women’s Care, will work with your obstetrician and other members of your health care team to create a coordinated plan for your pregnancy, labor, delivery and postpartum period. The Norton Heart & Vascular Institute Women’s Heart Program was created to focus on key points in a woman’s life — such as pregnancy — when heart disease can occur.

Gestational Diabetes and Heart Disease

Gestational diabetes and the associated high glucose (blood sugar) levels double the chances of calcium buildup in your arteries. Restoring healthy blood sugar levels after pregnancy won’t reverse the calcification, which is a strong predictor of heart disease such as atherosclerosis —cholesterol buildup in blood vessel walls.

High glucose damages blood vessels throughout your body. Over time, organ and circulatory issues can lead to organ failure, heart attack or stroke.

Heart Attack and Pregnancy

Pregnancy-related heart attacks are rare. But they can be particularly dangerous, because a pregnancy-related heart attack can be different from a typical heart attack and strike people who may assume they aren’t at risk for a heart attack.

A common cause of heart attack during or shortly after pregnancy is spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD).

Spontaneous coronary artery dissection heart attacks aren’t caused by plaque buildup from high cholesterol. Rather, they begin with a tear in the layers of an artery’s wall. Blood flows under the tear, often making it larger, and pools there. As the area fills with blood, it expands and can form a clot that blocks blood flow.

The cause of spontaneous coronary artery dissection isn’t clear, but a leading suspect is hormonal changes after delivery that affect the vascular walls. These heart attacks appear to happen more often in the first month after delivery.

If you have chest pain or think you’re having a heart attack, call 911. Don’t attempt to drive yourself to an emergency room.


  • Chest pain or pressure that persists for more than a few minutes is the most common symptom of heart attack for men or women. Common heart attack symptoms in women can be different from men and include:
    • Shortness of breath
    • Nausea or vomiting

How We’ll Care for Your Complex Pregnancy, Delivery and Newborn

  • Our caring team of over 10 highly experienced maternal-fetal medicine physicians ensures easier access to expertise for your complex pregnancy.
  • Our compassionate patient navigators who are registered nurses provide one-on-one support and guide you through your pregnancy care, including coordinating appointments.
  • Maternal-fetal medicine offices in downtown Louisville, St. Matthews, Bowling Green, Elizabethtown and Paducah all provide the same level of specialized care.
  • Deliver down the hall from the Norton Children’s Hospital’s Level IV neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) — the highest rated in Louisville and Southern Indiana — or the Level III NICU at Norton Women’s & Children’s Hospital.
  • We bring together a team of experienced specialists from Norton Children’s to prepare for your baby’s specialized care after birth. They will review your baby’s development and create a comprehensive plan to ensure the best possible care.
  • Depending on your condition, you may deliver at your home hospital; if necessary, the Norton Children’s Hospital  “Just for Kids” Transport Team will bring your baby to a Norton Children’s NICU in Louisville.
  • You can keep your OB/GYN for your delivery while getting the expertise of the maternal-fetal medicine team caring for your health and the health of your baby or multiples.
  • Medicaid and most commercial insurance plans are accepted.
  • Communicate with your medical provider, manage appointments and get alerts if an earlier appointment becomes available through your free Norton MyChart account.

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