Story at a glance
- Around 60 percent of women who gave birth in 2019 exhibited symptoms of poor heart health.
- The percentage of women experiencing optimal heart health prior to their pregnancy declined over the three-year period from 2016 to 2019.
- Data showed that more than 1 in 2 women had at least one risk factor related to poor heart health, with excess weight and obesity listed as the most common.
Around 60 percent of women who gave birth in 2019 exhibited symptoms of poor heart health, including excess weight, hypertension and diabetes, according to a new study.
Researchers analyzed data from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Natality Database 2016-2019 to identify the heart health risk of more than 14 million women ranging in age from 20 to 44 who gave birth in that time frame. A person was considered in good heart health if they did not have high blood pressure or diabetes and had a body mass index between 18 and 24.9.
The percentage of women experiencing optimal heart health prior to their pregnancy declined over the three-year period from 43.5 percent in 2016 to 40.2 percent in 2019, researchers found.
Additionally, the data showed that more than 1 in 2 women had at least one risk factor related to poor heart health with excess weight and obesity listed as the most common.
American Heart Association Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2022 Update concluded that heart disease causes a quarter of pregnancy related deaths.
“Pregnancy is nature’s stress test. There are many changes in the body during pregnancy, particularly the heart, including increased blood circulation that put an extra burden on a woman’s heart. Making sure you are in the best health you can be prior to getting pregnant will assure you have the best pregnancy outcomes,” said Garima V. Sharma, co-author of the American Heart Association’s Scientific Statement on Cardiovascular Consideration in Caring for Pregnant Patients.
Pre-pregnancy heart health was also compared across geographic regions, and researchers noted a disparity between women living in the U.S. South and Midwest compared to those in the West and Northeast.
Senior study author Sadiya S. Khan, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of cardiology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, said the geographic differences are similar to those noted for strokes in both men and women and “they indicate that social determinants of health play a critical role in maternal heart health as well.”
“We need to shift the conversation from solely ‘what can women do’ to what can society do to support mothers and pregnant individuals,” Khan added.
“We need federal and state-level public health policies that ensure there is equitable access to care before, during and after pregnancy, as well as economic investment in communities to support healthy behaviors, such as green spaces for exercise and access to heart-healthy food choices.”
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