Good heart health before pregnancy helps protect women, study finds
A new study, conducted by researchers at Northwestern University, examined a new pregnancy-related health risk.
Their findings show that good heart health before pregnancy is important for long-term maternal health and well-being. They explained that mothers and their babies are at higher risk of health complications if the woman’s heart health is compromised before pregnancy.
“As women, we tend to think about baby health when we’re pregnant, but what so many women don’t realize is that the very first thing they can do to protect their babies (and themselves) is their hearts to get in shape beforehand they even get pregnant”, called researcher dr Sadiya Khan.
The importance of heart health
For the study, the researchers analyzed data from over 14 million women registered in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) birth database from 2016 to 2019. They studied heart health before, during and after pregnancy and examined the role it played in long-term health outcomes for women and their babies across the country.
The study showed that more than 50% of the women involved in the study were dealing with at least one risk factor that could lead to poor heart health. These risks included diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure. The researchers explained that these health risks make women more likely to experience complications during pregnancy and childbirth, and they also increase the risk of health risks for newborns.
“Women with good heart health before pregnancy are less likely to have pregnancy complications and are more likely to give birth to a healthy baby,” said researcher Dr. Natalie Cameron. “More importantly, optimizing heart health before and during pregnancy can prevent the development of heart disease years later. Physicians can play a key role in assessing and optimizing heart health prior to pregnancy.”
Where you live matters
The researchers also learned that women’s geographic location can affect their pre-pregnancy heart health. Utah was found to have the highest percentage of women with good heart health as nearly 50% of women in Utah were risk free. Compared to women living in the Northeast and West Coast, women in the South and Midwest were less likely to have had good heart health before pregnancy.
“Unfortunately, the geographic patterns observed here are very similar to what we see for heart disease and stroke in both women and men,” said Dr. Khan. “They suggest that factors such as social determinants of health play a crucial role in heart health as well as maternal health.”
The researchers hope these findings will encourage young women to pay more attention to their heart health and understand its importance in the course of pregnancy.
“Pregnancy is often described as a window to future heart health, and taking advantage of the opportunity to use the prenatal period to optimize the mother’s heart health is crucial,” said Dr. Khan. “But we also need to focus on optimizing cardiovascular health in young adulthood, as nearly half of pregnancies are unplanned. We need to emphasize heart health across the lifespan.”