A new report published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings tells us that heart attacks during pregnancy and in the first six months after birth have increased by 25% since 2004. While a person's risk of heart attack during this time is overall a low risk, the rise is worth talking about.
Investigators in this analysis pulled data from 55.4 million women aged 18 and older who were hospitalized during pregnancy, birth, or postpartum. From this group, 4,471 were reported to have had a heart attack: 922 during pregnancy; 1,061 during labor and birth; and 2,390 in postpartum.
Why the Increased Risk of Heart Attack During Pregnancy, Birth & Postpartum?
Pregnancy has a big affect on your heart. When you're pregnant, your blood volume increases by about 50% and your heart rate also can go up by 50%, even when resting. Additionally, hormonal changes can increase stress on blood vessels. Pregnancy also can be a time of increased stress and anxiety for some people, both of which can increase the possibility of heart complications.
In postpartum, it takes time for the changes that happened during pregnancy to go back to normal. It's also a time when new parents are under increased stress, physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially.
Who's Most at Risk for Heart Attack During Pregnancy & Postpartum?
While even younger people who are pregnant can have a heart attack, researchers found that an increase in age raises your risk. In the analysis, people aged 35-39 were six times more likely to have a heart attack, and people 40-44 were 10 times more likely.
Additional findings show that the following raised a person's risk of heart attack during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum:
- high blood pressure
- elevated lipid levels
What Can You Do?
It's true that pregnant people don't need yet another thing to worry about in pregnancy, especially when worrying can increase your risk factors for illness! It's also true that knowledge is key -- even a small awareness of your risk factors for and warning signs of heart attack can help protect you.
Know your risk factors
Work with your doctor, OB, or midwife to determine your personal risk for heart attack. If you have an elevated risk, find out what you can do to lower your risk.
Manage your risk factors
While you can't change your age, there are some risk factors you can control. With medical guidance and the support and encouragement from family and friends, you can stop smoking, reduce your stress levels, and take part in moderate exercise. Work with your care providers to find out the most important and immediate steps you can take to lower and manage your risk factors.
Know the signs of heart attack
Regardless of your risk factors, it's critical to know the signs of a heart attack, and seek treatment immediately if you experience these signs, even if you just think something is going on. This is not the time to second guess yourself, ignore symptoms, or wait for them to go away. The following are warning signs of heart attack, according to the American Heart Association:
- Pain or discomfort in the chest
- Lightheadedness, nausea, or vomiting
- Jaw, neck, or back pain
- Discomfort or pain in the arm or shoulder
- Shortness of breath
These symptoms can happen by themselves or together, and they can come and go or be constant. In women, it's more common to experience signs other than chest pressure. Despite what you see on TV, a heart attack does not necessarily feel like someone is sitting on your chest. Some have compared the feeling to acid reflux or the flu.
It's important to remember that a person's overall risk of heart attack during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum is still very low -- 9.5 people per 100,000 births, or 0.01%. Knowing your personal risk factors for heart attack in pregnancy and beyond helps you better understand your health, putting you in a position of power over your care and well being.