Heart Problems and Pregnancy


They say pregnancy is a miracle. And indeed the more you know about the process of growing a seed in your womb, carrying it until it become a real person for nine months is nothing short of a miracle. The accommodations and the changes the mother’s body has to go through to make room for this little life makes being a mother the greatest journey of all.

However, these physiological changes can come with some costs on the mother’s health as well. The heart for example has to work harder to keep two hearts inside one body beating for nine months. Normally, the heart is strong enough to do this. However, when a woman has pre-existing heart conditions, the extra strain might prove too great. This is why women with heart conditions must consult a doctor before she decides to conceive.

Also the changes in the mother’s body may affect the heart and may cause gestational heart problems which can be temporary and may go away after the pregnancy if treated properly.

What happens to your heart during pregnancy?

As mentioned, the heart takes on extra workload when another life (on top of the mother’s) depends on it during pregnancy. This is why pregnant heart patients or women who plan to get pregnant must undergo all the necessary tests and screening methods so heart conditions can be dealt with properly during the pregnancy. A woman with congenital heart disease or defect for example has a high chance of sharing the disease to her baby.

Basically, pregnancy affects women during pregnancy in that the extra life causes increased blood flow to the heart, increased cardiac output which results to increase heart rate and decreased blood pressure.


Pregnant woman getting ultrasound from doctorWhat are gestational heart-related problems?

There are several heart-related problems that are brought about by pregnancy. Again, as long as they are treated properly, they can be temporary and could go away after pregnancy.

One is having palpitations. This when the pregnant woman feels that her heartbeat is faster and stronger than usual, also referred to as a “galloping” heart. This could mainly be caused by the extra strain on the heart and is often harmless. All the same, it is best to approach your doctor to rule our serious conditions.

The extra blood flow to the heart may cause “murmurs”. These heart murmurs are often harmless but very rarely; they may also indicate a problem with a heart valve. In some cases, some women may have fast or slow heartbeats which may or may not be irregular which can cause fainting, dizziness or light-headedness. This is called an arrhythmia and may be the result of an existing heart condition or can occur in women with a normal heart. Most often this will not require treatment but in rare cases when it does, your doctor can give you proper advice.

Another condition is peripartum cardiomyopathy which is when the heart has dilated cardiomyopathy or becomes enlarged, weakened and has a decrease capacity to pump blood. Again this might be cause by the extra load on the heart during pregnancy. It often happens to women who get pregnant after 30, manifests during the last trimester of pregnancy and could pose a dangerous (even life-threatening) risk to both mother and child.

Pregnancy can also cause hypertension or high blood pressure. These results into a host of risks for both the child and the mother, the worst of which is the possibility of cardiac arrest. It can also increase the possibility of seizures and stroke in the mother whereas the fetus can suffer from delayed physical development. The risks are high for those who are obese, smokers and have a family history of hypertension and diabetes.

If it is determined that you have a high risk pregnancy then it’s important for you and your physician to have a plan on which health care facility you will utilize both for your delivery if everything goes as scheduled and in the event of an emergency.

In large cities it may be easy to find a Maternal Fetal medicine department for a woman with a high risk pregnancy. However, not all communities have the technology or skills to be able to deal with the complexities of medical needs that both mom and baby may have in such cases.

Women with high risk pregnancies, for example, in the Denver, Colorado, area have access to both The Children’s Hospital and Presbyterian St. Luke’s. The Children’s Hospital offers a Colorado High Risk Maternity and Newborn Program, in Aurora, Colorado. These two hospitals in Colorado are just a few examples of facilities that have specialized units, physicians, and services for more complex pregnancies. As often is the case it is important to research your health care options in advance—before you need it, so do your own due diligence and find out which hospitals in your area can meet your medical needs and the needs of your baby.  To Find a Colorado Hospital you can visit our Hospitals in Colorado page or Search for All Colorado Hospitals.

For moms needing high risk pregnancy care in Northern Colorado and surrounding areas, there are also options in the event of an emergency that moms to be can utilize. There is an air ambulance service, North Colorado Med Evac consisting of two Bell 407 helicopters which can transport patients 24 hours a day 7 days a week. They cover patients needing transport in Greeley Colorado and extending out to a 300 mile radius which would also include areas of western Nebraska and Southern Wyoming. The North Colorado Med Evac service has labor and delivery nurses, eight specialty nurses, one of which who will be part of the flight team when transporting high risk cases to medical centers.

Many pregnancies can be managed without the additional resources of a high risk pregnancy team and medical center. But it’s good to know that if the need arises, you can get to the most appropriate hospital and receive the best care for yourself and your baby.

How to prevent heart problems while pregnant:

A healthy heart and a healthy body are requirements for pregnancy. One can never underestimate the benefits of having a good exercise routine and good nutrition.

Even during pregnancy, doctors advise to continue exercise albeit in moderation. Your physician can also advise you on the types of exercise safe for your particular medical situation. Knowing which types and what kinds of exercise to include and incorporate so that it won’t compromise your pregnancy is crucial. So ask questions and consult your doctor.

Good exercise and good nutrition doesn’t only ensure a strong heart and a healthy body, but helps reduce stress and keeps mom’s immune system in top condition. Keeping your own body nourished and strong throughout your pregnancy can help ensure that baby will be healthy as well.