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Birth control, pregnancy and your heart disease risk

Bryn Mawr Hospital February 17, 2015 General Wellness

Most women understand the important roles that a healthy diet and regular exercise play in the prevention of heart disease, but other factors—like pregnancy or birth control use—can be easily overlooked.

“While many women have a very healthy pregnancy and don’t experience negative side effects from birth control use, both of these can play a role in heart disease risk,” says Catherine Bernardini, DO, chief, department of obstetrics and gynecology at Bryn Mawr Hospital.

As heart disease continues to claim the lives of one in every three women, it’s important to ensure that you’re taking control of risk factors like these. Below, Dr. Bernardini explores how pregnancy and birth control can affect your heart health.

Pregnancy and heart disease

Nine months of pregnancy can be taxing on a woman’s body, including her heart.

High blood pressure is one of the most common issues women face before and during pregnancy and, unfortunately, is one of the primary indicators of heart health.

Although high blood pressure during pregnancy isn’t necessarily dangerous, it can include complications like premature delivery, low birth weight, and breathing problems for baby, and an increased risk of heart disease later in life for mothers.

Gestational diabetes is another common pregnancy-related risk factor for heart disease. Gestational diabetes, which develops during a pregnancy and disappears afterwards, refers to elevated blood sugar levels and can increase women’s risk for diabetes and heart disease later in life.

Both high blood pressure and gestational diabetes are more likely to occur in women who are overweight or not in good health prior to pregnancy, which is why Dr. Bernardini recommends a pre-pregnancy visit with your OB/GYN.

“During this visit, your OB/GYN can help you determine what a healthy weight is, and discuss your personal or family history of heart disease,” she says. “Taking control of your health before pregnancy is one of the best things you can do to be healthy during it.”

Birth control and heart disease

Generally, birth control pills are safe for healthy, young women. But combined with other factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or smoking, they can increase your heart disease risk. Some birth control pills containing estrogen can also increase the risk of blood clots.

“Although they are generally safe, birth control pills are not for everyone,” says Dr. Bernardini. “When trying to determine which method is right for you, be honest with your OB/GYN about your health history and lifestyle.”

Fortunately, if you are concerned about their effect on your heart, there are other options available. Talk to your OB/GYN about IUDs and barrier methods of contraception such as male and female condoms or diaphragms.

Whether starting a family is in your future or you opt for a long-term form of hormonal birth control, it’s important to keep your heart health top of mind. Talk to your OB/GYN about how to protect your heart and how factors like these will affect your heart disease risk. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.