Women most at risk of heart failure weeks after giving birth

A new study has found that many women are at a higher risk of a heart attack in the weeks following giving birth.

New US research has found that women are at a higher risk of suffering a heart attack within six weeks after giving birth, a time known as the postpartum period, suggesting that those considered high-risk should be closely monitored even after leaving hospital.

Carried out by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the study analysed more than 50 million pregnancy-related hospitalisations among women 13 to 49 years of age in the US from 2001 to 2011.

The researchers found that although less than 2% of all pregnancy-related hospitalisations occurred during the postpartum period, nearly 60% of pregnancy-related heart failure hospitalisations took place during this time.

Of the pregnancy-related heart failure hospitalisations, 27.3% took place following delivery and 13.2%  occurred antepartum (before childbirth).

The study’s lead author Mulubrhan Mogos noted that the results suggest that heart failure is a significant problem, even among relatively young reproductive-age women.

In addition, women who had an additional disease or health condition, such as high blood pressure, were particularly at risk of experiencing a heart attack.

Picture: iStock

The team also found that other factors that appeared to increase the risk of having a heart failure diagnosis before and after giving birth included being older, black, from the southern United States, living in low-income household areas, and engaging in risky healthy behaviors such as using tobacco, drugs, and alcohol.

Mogos and his team now believe that high-risk women need to be identified and monitored before leaving hospital, and that this surveillance should continue during the postpartum period.

Women are normally discharged from hospital within two to three days after delivery, and are not evaluated again by their health care providers until six weeks later.

“Health education about expectations and their risk status during delivery-related hospitalisation may empower women to seek immediate support from their social network and healthcare provider,” said Mogos, “There is a need for increased awareness and public health measures to address risk factors and promote prevention strategies among historically disadvantaged groups.”

The researchers added that heart failure is a leading cause of maternal morbidity and death in the US, with the rate of pregnancy-related deaths more than doubling between 1987 and 2011.


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