How pregnancy affects the heart
When a woman is pregnant, the blood volume increases by 30-50%. This increase helps to nourish the growing baby remaining higher than usual throughout the pregnancy. Because of this, the heart rate increases by 10-15bpm, while blood pressure decreases by about 10mmHg. Because of these changes, symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath, and light-headedness can occur. Labor and delivery also cause a heavy workload for the heart. Therefore, pregnant women should get basic heart checks at the start and during pregnancy.
Are you at risk?
Women planning to get pregnant or are already pregnant will be considered high risk if there are any known heart conditions. The risk will depend on the type of heart disease. For example, women diagnosed with minor heart rhythm would have to continue treatment for arrhythmia. However, in severe cases, surgery may be necessary. For scarring or malformation of the heart or valves, there’s a greater risk of complications during pregnancy. The heart may not be able to cope with the increased blood flow. Possible complications include a life-threatening infection on the lining of the heart and valves. The medical team can take several steps, including adjusting blood thinners to avoid risks to the baby.
Congestive heart failure and heart defects
Heart failure is one of the more severe forms of heart disease. With the heart is already unable to pump enough blood to keep up with the body’s demands, the increased blood volume caused by pregnancy, may worsen the situation. For a congenital heart defect, there is already a 50% chance that the baby will have the same condition. As such, before pregnancy, consulting a genetic counselor or genetic specialist is vital. For women already pregnant, ask about fetal echocardiography (echo) to detect significant heart defects in advance.
Know the risks before pregnancy
Having heart disease would cause a high-risk pregnancy. Because of this, all women should be screened in advance. For those with a known heart condition, consult a healthcare provider on cardio-obstetrics before family planning. The cardiologist will perform a detailed physical exam and risk assessment. The assessment will determine the short and long-term risks to both mother and child. Having a baby with heart disease is possible but will require close monitoring. If the doctor diagnoses a health risk, consider reproductive techniques like gestational surrogacy.