How Pregnancy Can Impact Your Cardiovascular System

Jan 12, 2024
 How Pregnancy Can Impact Your Cardiovascular System
When problems with the heart and blood vessels occur during pregnancy, a cardiology specialist can step in to monitor and manage your conditions to ensure that you have as healthy a pregnancy as possible. 

During pregnancy, your heart works hard to support you and your baby. For some women, this extra demand can cause new cardiovascular issues to arise or worsen existing problems during pregnancy.

Our team of skilled providers at Carolina Heart & Leg Center is here for your cardiovascular needs. We offer comprehensive cardiology care to patients in the Fayetteville, North Carolina, area. Cardiovascular issues are one of the most common causes of pregnancy complications. Keep reading to learn how pregnancy impacts your heart and blood vessels.

Increased blood volume and cardiac output

During pregnancy, blood volume increases by up to 50% to support the needs of the growing baby. This increase in blood volume requires a higher cardiac output. To meet this demand, the heart pumps more blood each minute, ensuring that you and the baby get sufficient nutrients. 

Elevated heart rate

The heart rate typically increases during pregnancy, starting as early as the first trimester and peaking in the third trimester. This rise in heart rate is a natural response to the increased blood volume and heart output. For most women, this increase is perfectly normal.

Blood pressure changes

Blood pressure often decreases during the first and second trimesters due to hormonal changes that cause blood vessels to dilate. However, in the third trimester, blood pressure usually returns to pre-pregnancy levels. 

Monitoring blood pressure during pregnancy is crucial to detect issues that may develop like preeclampsia, a serious blood pressure condition that can pose risks to you and your baby.

Preeclampsia typically develops after the 20th week. It causes high blood pressure and protein in the urine. The exact cause isn’t fully understood, but the prevailing theory is related to the placenta and its interaction with your cardiovascular system, leading to blood vessel constriction, increased blood pressure, and reduced oxygen flow to the baby. 

Close monitoring and management of preeclampsia is vital to keep you and your baby healthy and lower the risk of further complications. You’re at a higher risk if you’ve had preeclampsia during a previous pregnancy or have pre-existing hypertension.

Vascular adaptations

Blood vessels adapt and change during pregnancy. Hormones like progesterone cause blood vessels to relax and dilate, accommodating the increased blood volume. However, these changes can also result in lower blood pressure, leading to symptoms like dizziness or fainting, especially when standing up quickly or standing for long periods.

Strain on the cardiovascular system

If you have a pre-existing heart condition, pregnancy can add strain. This can increase the risk of complications, such as gestational hypertension, preeclampsia, or even heart failure. This makes regular cardiac assessments and close monitoring by our health care providers vital.

Risk factors for cardiovascular issues during pregnancy

Heart and blood vessel conditions can cause serious pregnancy complications. Risk factors for cardiovascular issues during pregnancy include:

  • Anemia
  • Sleep apnea
  • Age (40 and over)
  • Being sedentary
  • Clotting disorders
  • Existing hypertension
  • Existing heart disease
  • Overweight and obesity

The good news is that even if you have cardiovascular risks, complications are preventable. 

Importance of prenatal care

Regular prenatal checkups are essential to monitor these cardiovascular changes. If you have or develop a cardiovascular condition, allow our cardiovascular physicians to be part of your health care team.

Checkups provide an opportunity to check your blood pressure, heart rate, and other vital signs to ensure that any potential issues are identified and managed promptly. 

Through careful monitoring and management, you minimize potential risks, ensuring a healthy pregnancy.

If you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant, partner with us at Carolina Heart & Leg Center to manage your cardiovascular health. Contact us to request an appointment today.