Pregnancy: A stress test for your heart

Pregnant woman makes heart with her hands on her belly.

Everything changes when you’re having a baby. This includes your body. In fact, the changes to your body are so big that medical experts see pregnancy as a stress test.

An uneventful pregnancy and birth are signs that your body can pass that stress test. But if you experience problems like gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and premature birth, these are warning signs from your body.

“If you have an adverse pregnancy outcome, you are more at risk for heart disease or a cardiac event ten or twenty years down the road,” says Dr. Gupta.

These problems aren’t rare.

  • 5% of pregnant women have preeclampsia.
  • Up to 10% of pregnant women have gestational diabetes.
  • More than 10% of infants in the US are born too early.

Depending on how severe your condition was in pregnancy, your risk of heart disease may have doubled, tripled or even quadrupled. Many of the women who have heart attacks in their forties and fifties had a warning sign years ago when they had preeclampsia or gestational diabetes during pregnancy.

Unfortunately, the connection between problems in pregnancy and heart disease risk is still not well known.

“Most women don’t know,” Dr. Gupta says. “And even many pregnancy care providers don’t know or don’t regularly recommend that their patients who had these problems see a cardiologist.”

Dr. Gupta is committed to spreading the word. She works with the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women movement to raise awareness of heart disease in women. She also has [a new program] at the OHSU Center for Women’s Health, where she collaborates with pregnancy care and other women’s health providers. She offers care to women who:

  • Are more likely to experience heart disease due to problems in pregnancy or other risk factors.
  • Have heart disease and want care from a leading expert in women’s heart health.

If you are at risk for heart disease, prevention is possible. Lifestyle changes can reduce your risk. Not smoking, staying active, maintaining a healthy weight, good nutrition, and keeping chronic problems like diabetes under control are all important.

Preventive cardiology care is also important. If you had issues during pregnancy, we hope you will see a cardiologist who can help monitor and reduce your risk of a cardiac event.