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Being Pregnant Ups The Risk of Heart Attack

Source: Reuters

About a week after my third pregnancy, I thought I was having a heart attack. I went to the ER after my neighbor, a doctor, took my vitals. After 3 hours of sitting in the ER, they said my heart was enlarged. Immediately I went into full panic mode and scheduled an appointment with a cardiologist ASAP. After having an echocardiogram done on my heart, they said it was not enlarged and I had no sign of anything being wrong at all, minus some post-partrum anxiety. They felt as if the x-ray was read wrong. Yes, it may have looked enlarged but I did just have a baby, which apparently is the closest a women will ever come to death. And well, I pretty much jumped to the conculsion that I thought I was going to need heart surgery or something. Needless to say, it was a very scary week of my life.

Don’t freak out yet. The chance of having a heart attack while pregnant is very low, 1 in every 16,000 deliveries. However, that is still 3 to 4 times higher than non-pregnant women. According to the American College of Cardiology, heart attacks in pregnancy tend to be more severe and lead to more complications. You can thank the hormonal changes, increased blood volume and other physiological changes that happen during pregnancy that increase the risk.

The more common reason pregnant women had a heart attack was a condition called coronary dissection, a separation of the layers of the artery wall that blocks blood flow. They said this condition is very rare among non-pregnant patients. This suggests that in at least some cases, the traditional approach to treating the condition during pregnancy and post partum may not always be best, researchers said. “We have very clear guidelines for (heart attacks) in the general population. These guidelines, however, may not always apply to women with pregnancy-associated heart attacks and may actually cause more harm than good,” said Dr. Uri Elkayam of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and the study’s lead researcher.

An analysis of 150 cases taken since 2005 were added to the 228 cases taken prior to 2005 for the study.

Researchers found that most pregnant women did not have traditional cardiovascular risk factors, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. Yet their heart attacks were more severe and the death rate was 2 to 3 times higher than what is expected of non-pregnant women the same age.

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Image: Kelly Hicks Design

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