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What Every Mom and Soon-to-Be-Mom Needs to Know About Their Heart

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What Every Mom and Soon-to-Be-Mom Needs to Know About Their Heart

April 5, 2024

(StatePoint) Over the last three decades, the United States has seen pregnancy-related deaths rise nearly 140%, and heart disease continues to be the leading cause. Furthermore, women
who have prenatal complications, such as high blood pressure or gestational diabetes, have a significantly higher risk of heart disease and stroke later in life, yet many are not getting the care they need.

According to the National Collaborative for Infants & Toddlers (NCIT), an advocacy collaborative working to pass policies that make it possible for all expectant parents, infants and toddlers to thrive, the United States is in the midst of a maternal health crisis.

This sentiment is echoed by “Opportunities in the Postpartum Period to Reduce Cardiovascular Disease Risk Following Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes,” a new scientific statement from the American Heart Association (AHA), which was recently published in “Circulation,” the Association’s flagship peer-reviewed journal.

“Healthcare professionals and the public alike often think of heart disease as a man’s disease. While heart disease is also the leading cause of death for women, fewer than 50% of women identify it as such. This is creating a dangerous situation for women, especially during higher-risk periods of their life, as their symptoms often go undiagnosed and untreated,” says Dr. Sadiya S. Khan, one of the statement’s authors. “As adverse pregnancy outcomes become increasingly common, it’s important for women to be aware of their risk for heart disease, the actions they can take to lower their risk if they experience pregnancy complications, and for birth justice policy interventions to take place that will improve their care during their pregnancy, and throughout their lifetimes.”

Many women face significant barriers in accessing primary care after delivery. Up to 40% of women do not access postpartum care, and only an estimated 18% to 25% of postpartum patients with pregnancy complications or chronic health conditions are seen by a primary care clinician within 6 months of delivery. Women of color, and women in rural areas are disproportionately impacted by barriers to care that could leave them vulnerable to further health complications.

According to NCIT, policy interventions such as expanded Medicaid coverage for 12 months postpartum in all states, expanded income eligibility for health insurance programs, paid family and medical leave, community-based doulas, and evidence-based home visiting programs can help promote ethnic, racial and socioeconomic birth equity, and help ensure all expectant and new parents have access to insurance, care and the supports needed to thrive.

Also supporting women in all stages of life, and all stages of pregnancy is Go Red for Women, an AHA initiative empowering women to take charge of their heart health. One way they can do that, according to the initiative, is by understanding their heart disease risks, and coming to their doctors’ appointments prepared to discuss their personal and family health history and other factors that could impact their chance of a healthy pregnancy. Women can also proactively manage their heart disease risk factors during pregnancy and after delivery using the AHA’s Life Essential 8 cardiovascular health metrics as a framework. These include: eating better, being more active, quitting tobacco, getting healthy sleep, managing weight, controlling cholesterol, managing blood sugar and managing blood pressure.

“Stemming the tide of this maternal health crisis is vital for families, and it starts with bringing light to the tremendous need for better delivery of care to moms and soon-to-be moms with a focus on heart health,” says Dr. Khan.