It wasn’t long ago that women with heart disease were told they shouldn’t get pregnant, but that’s not the case anymore.
More women with heart disease are having babies.
Nikki Westphal gave birth despite her serious heart problems. She has “a narrowed aorta, and I also had my left atrium and my left ventricle stuck together and it kind of made for blood kind of going back and forth more than it should.”
Nikki’s heart got so bad last fall that, at the age of 34, she underwent open heart surgery while she was 6 months pregnant. And while her case is unique, the idea is becoming more common.
Dr. Curt Daniels, with Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center says, “We’re seeing a rise in this population. We’re also seeing a rise in the complexity of the type of patients that we’re seeing that are women with heart disease that want to get pregnant.”
Dr. Daniels is a congenital heart disease specialist. He says a growing number of women are developing heart problems and still having babies.
A woman’s risk of heart disease nearly quadruples after she turns 40, yet they are one of the few age groups having more babies.
In fact, the birth rate for women over 40 is the highest it’s been in nearly 50 years.
Improved monitoring during pregnancy, and teams of specialists during delivery make it possible.
But there are still plenty of risks. Dr. Daniels says if you were born with a heart problem or if there's a chance you’ve developed one, get checked out long before you even try to get pregnant.
“We sometimes could find an aneurysm, we sometimes could find that the heart muscle is weaker than we thought, we may find a hole inside the heart that the woman did not know still existed from previous surgery.” Problems that may not keep you from having a baby, but will help doctors know how to keep both of you safe.
Doctors say a woman’s heart is under more strain throughout her pregnancy, and during child birth many women have a heart rate that’s 37-percent higher than the average marathon runner.
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