Women who have high-risk pregnancies or complications in childbirth are up to eight times more likely to suffer heart disease later in life. And many mothers — and their doctors — are unaware of the danger.
Emerging research shows heart disease is a long-term threat for women who develop diabetes or high blood pressure during pregnancy, for example, or those whose babies are born prematurely or precariously small.
Yet doctors do not typically advise women about their risk or counsel them to watch for symptoms, said Noel Bairey Merz, a cardiologist and director of the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles.
Bairey Merz said doctors can see heart attacks and strokes coming, often 10 or 20 years ahead of time, if they are on the lookout. “This isn’t rocket science,” she said. “We just have to figure out how we can find the women who are at risk.”
Heightened awareness of the link between pregnancy complications and heart disease is prompting greater outreach to the public and collaborative research between cardiologists and obstetricians. That could help “make tremendous strides toward reducing and preventing heart disease in women,” said Bairey Merz.
Cedars-Sinai recently started following a small group of women who’ve had pregnancy or labor complications to further explore the heart disease connection. In a separate study, Bairey Merz and other researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health are tracking 5,000 new moms at eight sites nationwide — including Cedars — to fill gaps in knowledge about heart health and develop recommendations for physicians.
The Women’s Heart Alliance, an advocacy group started by Cedars-Sinai and New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, also works with obstetricians and other providers to raise awareness…