First Get Your Heart in Shape and Then Get Pregnant: Study

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“As women, we tend to think about the baby’s health once we become pregnant, but what so many women don’t realize is the very first thing they can do to protect their babies (and themselves) is to get their heart in shape before they even conceive,” said Senior Study Author Dr. Sadiya Khan, assistant professor of medicine in cardiology and epidemiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a Northwestern Medicine physician.

More than half of the women in this study had lower risk factors for poor heart health, including overweight/obesity, high blood pressure, or diabetes before pregnancy. The study found out that being overweight or obese was the most common reason for poor heart health before pregnancy.

“Women with favorable heart health before pregnancy are less likely to experience complications of pregnancy and are more likely to deliver a healthy baby,” said Lead Study Author Dr. Natalie Cameron, an internal medicine specialist and instructor at Feinberg and a Northwestern Medicine physician. “Even more importantly, optimizing heart health before and during pregnancy can prevent the development of heart disease years later. Clinicians can play a key role in both assessing and optimizing heart health prior to pregnancy.”

Better Heart Health Before Pregnancy in the West and Northeast

Scientists compared the data based on geographical area, and there were geographical differences as overall good heart health declined across the country. The percentage of women with good heart health is lower in the southern (38.1%) and midwestern (38.8%) states compared to the western (42.2%) and northeastern (43.6%) states.

Less than one-third of women (31.2%) in Mississippi had differences between states with good heart health before pregnancy, compared with nearly half (47.2%) in Utah, the best state in the United States.

“The geographic patterns observed here are, unfortunately, very similar to what we see for heart disease and stroke in both women and men,” Khan said. “They indicate factors, such as social determinants of health, play a critical role in heart health as well as maternal health.”

“Pregnancy is often described as a window to future heart health, and taking the opportunity to leverage the prenatal period to optimize maternal heart health is critical. But we also need to focus on optimizing cardiovascular health throughout young adulthood because nearly half of pregnancies are unplanned. We need to emphasize heart health across the life span.”

Scientists encourage women to see a doctor or other health care provider before becoming pregnant to take proactive steps to maintain a healthy lifestyle before and during pregnancy. This includes staying physically active, eating a healthy diet rich in vegetables, whole grains and plant-based proteins, and avoiding tobacco to reduce the risk of being overweight or having high blood pressure or diabetes.

Optimal heart health was defined as having a normal body weight with a body mass index of value between 18 and 24.9 kg/m2 and not having hypertension or diabetes. The scientists analyzed data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Natality Database 2016-2019.

They identified the pre-pregnancy heart health risk factors of 14,174,625 women with live births. The women ranged in age from 20 to 44 years old: 81.4% were from the ages of 20 to 34; 52.7% were non-Hispanic white; 22.7% were Hispanic/Latina; and 14% were non-Hispanic Black.

Other Northwestern authors who wrote this article were Dr. Priya Freaney, Michael Wang, Dr. Amanda Perak, Dr. Brigid Dolan, Dr. Matthew O’Brien, S. Darius Tandon, Dr. Matthew Davis, Norrina Allen, Dr. Philip Greenland, and Dr. Donald Lloyd-Jones.

Source: Medindia

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