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Treating heart health during and after pregnancy

Main Line Health April 30, 2021 Maternity

A few days after Lauren Sharkey’s first daughter was born, she ended up in the emergency room with extremely high blood pressure. During her second pregnancy, Lauren was under the care of Katie Hawthorne, MD, a noninvasive cardiologist and an advanced cardiac imaging specialist with Lankenau Heart Institute

One of Dr. Hawthorne’s specialties is cardio-obstetrics, the treatment of patients with heart disease who are pregnant or have been pregnant. This kind of subspecialized care is important because women have unique heart health needs across their lifetimes. 

“I see pregnant women with cardiovascular disease every day,” Dr. Hawthorne says. “Pregnancy has many symptoms in common with congestive heart failure, so you have to see a lot of women who have normal pregnancies and congestive heart failure to understand the difference.” After Lauren’s second daughter was born, her blood pressure rose again, but this time it was better controlled. “We kept her out of the hospital and home with her babies, which meant the world to her,” Dr. Hawthorne says.

Pregnancy complications

There’s a myth that complications from pregnancy-related high blood pressure and gestational diabetes go away after the baby is born, but that is not always the case. There are certain conditions during pregnancy that can put women at an increased risk for heart disease later in life: 

  • Women with gestational diabetes are 50% more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes within five years. It can also be a marker for early coronary artery disease. 
  • Gestational hypertension, eclampsia and preeclampsia can put women at greater risk for having long-term high blood pressure.
  • Women who deliver before 37 weeks and have preeclampsia are eight to 10 times more likely to die from heart disease.

If you have complications in pregnancy, you can reduce your risk for heart disease with these tips:

  • Eat a healthy diet low in salt, cholesterol and sugar
  • Move your body for at least 30 minutes a day
  • Quit smoking
  • Get a copy of your pregnancy and post-delivery medical records to share with your providers for the rest of your life
  • Get annual checkups and continue heart disease screenings

If you have questions related to your heart health or would like more information about the Main Line Health Women’s Heart Initiative, our team of cardiologists and support groups, please call 484.476.3WHI (484.476.3944). Main Line Health is also a proud sponsor of the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women campaign.

Main Line Health serves patients at hospitals and health centers throughout the western suburbs of Philadelphia. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.