Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women. Two out of three women who experienced preeclampsia will die of heart disease!
Ladies, did you know, pre-eclampsia doubles your risk for heart disease and stroke? It can also quadruple your chances of high blood pressure later in life (1). Pre-eclampsia can be fatal to you and your baby if not monitored. To avoid experiencing pre-eclampsia and heart disease, learn the important facts about them. This blog will discuss the hidden connection between pre-eclampsia and your heart health.
What is pre-eclampsia?
Pre-eclampsia is a condition where your blood pressure becomes high at or after 20 weeks of pregnancy. If left uncontrolled, it can reduce your blood supply to the fetus, leading to serious complications. One such complication is preterm birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy (2).
If your blood pressure exceeds 140/90 mmHg, you need to seek medical attention. Furthermore, pre-eclampsia may lead to eclampsia, which can cause seizures, or a coma if not treated promptly.
Warning signs and symptoms, you should know
High blood pressure is a warning sign of preeclampsia and heart disease. Treatment depends on the severity of the signs and symptoms. Below are some examples of warning signs needing attention (3):
Sudden weight gain of more than 3 to 5 pounds in a week
Protein in your urine
There may be swelling around the eyes, face, or hands during pregnancy. It is not normal swelling.
Blurred or double vision
A dull, throbbing headache that won’t go away
During pregnancy, watch out for a complication called HELLP. It affects the liver and blood cells.
HELLP stands for the following (2):
H-hemolysis, the breakdown of red blood cells
EL- elevated liver enzymes, produced by the liver and can show signs of liver damage.
LP- low platelet, responsible for clotting the blood.
Risk factors for developing pre-eclampsia during pregnancy
Having premature births or pre-eclampsia before increases your risk of getting pre-eclampsia (2.) Other factors can also influence your chances such as the following (3):
African American women
Diabetes or diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes)
Family or medical history of high blood pressure (greater than 140/90)
Overweight or obesity
The correlation between heart disease and preeclampsia
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of maternal death in the United Kingdom and the United States. Studies show that after the first ten years of pregnancy, the mother experiences an increased risk of heart failure, stroke, and cardiovascular disease (4).
The real question here is, how does pre-eclampsia affect the heart? Preeclampsia affects pregnant women, but we don't understand why it occurs. It affects your placenta, causing a decrease in blood flow and oxygen to your baby. The damage to the inner lining of blood vessels can cause high blood pressure. The result can be fatal for both you and your baby.
Heart healthy habits with pre-eclampsia
Having pre-eclampsia and heart disease shouldn’t define you as a person. Instead, begin adding heart-healthy habits to your lifestyle for support during this process. It's recommended that you receive patient education and undergo ongoing cardiovascular monitoring.
Below are four lifestyle changes you can make to improve your heart health.
Monitor your blood pressure- Check your blood pressure daily to help manage the long-term effects of pre-eclampsia. You can buy an electronic blood pressure cuff at your local pharmacy. Check your pressure as your doctor advises, at the same time every day. If you notice a change in your feelings, report it immediately.
Incorporate movement- An active heart is always a good idea. You can do many activities to increase physical activity. Some common examples are swimming, yoga, and brisk walking. Always consult with your doctor before starting any new activity.
Eat more fruits and veggies- Eating more fruits and veggies can help prevent pre-eclampsia complications in your diet. They are rich in fiber and can reduce the risk of heart disease. Some examples include kale, bananas, and avocados.
Regular follow-up with your doctor- Make sure to visit your doctor and go to all your appointments with your healthcare team. Here’s why. They track your symptoms and pregnancy every step of the way. If you have any questions that you are unsure about, you can address them during your appointment.
Preeclampsia doubles your risk for heart disease and stroke. Recent studies have indicated that pre-eclampsia can cause long-lasting effects on the heart. To control pre-eclampsia, track your heart health and talk to your healthcare provider. Your heart matters and so do you.
Hi, I'm Dr.Annmarie, a Women's Nurse Practitioner and Certified Health Coach. We're here to help if you're a woman at risk of cardiovascular problems from preeclampsia. Join our Healthy Heart Program to enhance your heart and well-being. We'll create a personalized plan for you and provide support every step of the way. To get started on this journey, schedule your clarity call today!
Preeclampsia Foundation. 2022. Heart Disease & Stroke. https://preeclampsia.org/heart-disease-stroke
National Institute of Health. 2018. About Preeclampsia and Eclampsia. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/preeclampsia/conditioninfo
John Hopkins Medicine. 2023. Preeclampsia. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/preeclampsia
Wu et al. 2017. Preeclampsia and Future Cardiovascular Health. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIRCOUTCOMES.116.003497#d1e1666