Hope For Georgia Moms

Transforming the lives of pregnant women and their children.

Heart Health

Cardiac (heart) disease is a leading cause of complications during pregnancy. It is also the number one cause of death among pregnant women in the United States. Heart disease in pregnancy refers to problems with your heart that happen while you’re pregnant. Your health care provider should take a complete medical history to screen for any heart conditions.


How does pregnancy affect my heart?

Pregnancy is a natural stress test on the heart. During pregnancy, your heart is working harder than usual to pump blood to you and your baby. Sometimes, the extra stress reveals risks to your heart health that were there before you got pregnant. The stress can also cause new problems to develop during pregnancy, such as high blood pressure, preeclampsia, or diabetes. These problems can happen to you during pregnancy, in labor and delivery – even up to a year after your child is born.

There are two main types of heart problems you could experience during pregnancy – Preexisting heart conditions and heart conditions that develop during pregnancy.

Preexisting conditions are cardiac diseases that you had before becoming pregnant. You may have never experienced symptoms or major concerns before, but during pregnancy, they can affect you differently and lead to complications. Preexisting conditions are the most common types of heart conditions that affect pregnant women. Some are serious and could be life-threatening.

Here is a list of some heart conditions that your doctor should screen for:

Congenital heart disease (CHD)

If you were born with a heart problem, also known as congenital heart disease, your baby has a greater risk of developing some type of heart defect, too. You also are at a higher risk for complications during pregnancy, and of premature birth, depending on your specific heart defect.

Heart rhythm issues

These are also called arrhythmia. Arrhythmia can make the heart feel like it beats too fast, too slow, or with an unusual rhythm. Pregnancy can cause or worsen heart rhythm problems. Tell your healthcare provider if you have any of the symptoms mentioned here.

Heart valve issues

Having a heart valve that does not function normally may complicate pregnancy, depending on how severe the valve problem is. This requires close follow-up with a specialist throughout pregnancy and delivery.


High blood pressure

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, in pregnancy has become more common. However, with good blood pressure control, you and your baby are more likely to stay healthy. Women who have chronic hypertension can also develop preeclampsia.

Coronary artery disease (CAD)

This is a condition that affects the arteries that supply blood to your heart. These arteries can become blocked, causing reduced blood flow and pain in the heart muscles.

Heart failure

This is also known as peripartum cardiomyopathy (peri-PAR-tum car-dio-my-OP-a-thy). is an uncommon form of heart failure that happens towards the end of pregnancy or in the months following delivery, when no other cause of heart failure can be found.

What can I do to protect my heart while I’m pregnant or trying to get pregnant?

Talk to your doctor about your risk

And how it affects your pregnancy. Tell your doctor about any medicines you are taking and keep all your medical appointments during and after pregnancy.

If you’re not pregnant yet

Set yourself up for a healthy pregnancy. This means choosing healthy foods, getting regular physical activity, aiming for a healthy weight, managing stress, getting enough good quality sleep, and if you smoke, quit.

Watch for warning signs of a problem during and after pregnancy. 

Some warning signs of a heart problem during or after pregnancy are a headache that won’t go away or gets worse, overwhelming tiredness, dizziness, trouble breathing, chest or belly pain, swelling, or nausea. If you feel like something is wrong, call your doctor or seek medical care right away. Learn about other warning signs here.

Understanding your risk

Pregnancy-related heart problems can happen to any woman, but your risk may be higher if you:

  • Are 40 or older
  • Are African American, American Indian, or Alaska Native
  • Are overweight or obese
  • Have existing heart problems
  • Smoke, drink alcohol, or use drugs
  • Have health conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure

What questions should I ask my doctor?

Seeing your health care provider regularly before and during your pregnancy is important for staying healthy. Your doctor can see how your body is adjusting to being pregnant. Take the opportunity to tell your doctor about any changes or symptoms you have noticed. Here are questions to discuss with your doctor:

  • Are my blood pressure numbers normal?
  • Am I at risk of developing heart problems during or after pregnancy?
  • If I am at risk, will this affect my prenatal care or birthing plan?
  • What can I do to lower my risks for heart problems during pregnancy?
  • Is there a test I can have to rule out a serious heart problem?
  • When should I consider going to the emergency room or calling 9-1-1?
  • If I have health problems during pregnancy, will that affect my baby, and how does that affect my heart health in the future?
  • What should I be aware of after delivery?
  • Will any heart health problems during this pregnancy affect future pregnancies?

Are there other pregnancy-related conditions that can affect my heart? 

Gestational diabetes:

Gestational diabetes happens when a woman who didn’t have diabetes before pregnancy develops the condition during pregnancy.  If not controlled, it can lead to high blood pressure from preeclampsia and having a large infant, which increases the risk for cesarean delivery.


Preeclampsia is a serious pregnancy complication that can develop after 20 weeks of pregnancy. It is marked by high blood pressure and protein in your urine. Preeclampsia affects your arteries, which carry blood to your baby.


Eclampsia is seizures during pregnancy. The symptoms are high blood pressure, headaches, blurry vision, and convulsions. Eclampsia is a rare but serious condition that can happen in the second half of pregnancy.