Heart Problems During Pregnancy: Causes, Risks, and Management

heart problems during pregnancy

Pregnancy is a time of joy and anticipation, but it can also present unique challenges, especially for women with pre-existing heart conditions or those who develop heart problems during pregnancy. Understanding the causes, risks, and management of heart problems during pregnancy is crucial for ensuring the well-being of both the mother and the developing baby.

Causes of Heart Problems During Pregnancy

  1. Pre-existing heart conditions: Women with pre-existing heart conditions, such as congenital heart disease, valve disorders, or arrhythmias, may experience worsening symptoms or complications during pregnancy.
  2. Gestational hypertension: Some women develop high blood pressure during pregnancy, known as gestational hypertension. This condition can strain the heart and increase the risk of cardiovascular complications.
  3. Gestational diabetes: Uncontrolled gestational diabetes can lead to high blood sugar levels, which can affect the heart’s function and increase the risk of cardiovascular issues.
  4. Pre-eclampsia: Pre-eclampsia is a condition characterized by high blood pressure and organ damage, typically occurring after the 20th week of pregnancy. It can affect the heart and lead to complications if left untreated.

Changes to your heart and blood vessels during pregnancy

Every woman experiences many changes during pregnancy. Such changes put extra stress on your body and force your heart to work harder. The following changes are normal during pregnancy. They help your growing fetus receive enough oxygen and nutrients.

Increase in blood volume

The blood volume of expectant mothers goes up during the first few weeks of pregnancy and continues rising from there. Most people experience a 40% to 45% total increase in blood volume during pregnancy.

Increase in heart rate

It’s normal for your heart rate to increase by 10 to 20 beats per minute during pregnancy. It goes up gradually during your pregnancy and is the highest by your third trimester.

Increase in cardiac output

Cardiac output is the amount of blood your heart pumps each minute. By 28 to 34 weeks, your cardiac output may increase by 30% to 50%. This is because of the higher blood volume and faster heart rate. If you’re pregnant with twins, your cardiac output may increase up to 60%.

Use a portable ECG monitor to get basic information about your heart condition on the go. This portable device provides information about your heart rhythm and rate, and blood pressure.

Risks and Complications

Heart problems during pregnancy can pose risks to both the mother and the baby. Some potential complications include:

  1. Increased risk of heart failure: Pregnancy places additional strain on the heart, and women with pre-existing heart conditions may experience worsening symptoms or heart failure.
  2. Preterm birth: Certain heart conditions, such as pre-eclampsia or gestational hypertension, can increase the risk of preterm birth, which carries its own set of potential complications.
  3. Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR): Insufficient blood flow to the placenta and the baby can lead to restricted fetal growth and development.
  4. Miscarriage or stillbirth: Severe heart problems or complications may increase the risk of miscarriage or stillbirth, although this is relatively rare.

Management and Treatment of Heart Problems During Pregnancy

The management of heart problems during pregnancy requires a multidisciplinary approach involving obstetricians, cardiologists, and other healthcare professionals. The specific treatment plan will depend on the type and severity of the heart condition, as well as the overall health of the mother and baby. Some general management strategies include:

Regular prenatal care

Close monitoring of the pregnancy through regular prenatal check-ups is essential to assess the mother’s heart function, blood pressure, and overall well-being.


Depending on the heart condition and its severity, medications may be prescribed to manage symptoms and prevent complications. However, medication selection must consider the safety of the developing baby.

Lifestyle modifications

Adopting a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet, regular exercise (as recommended by healthcare providers), stress management, and avoiding tobacco or excessive alcohol consumption, can support heart health during pregnancy. You may also check your baby’s heartbeat with the help of an at-home fetal doppler.

High-risk pregnancy care

Women with significant heart problems during pregnancy may require specialized high-risk pregnancy care, which may involve more frequent monitoring, additional tests, and consultations with specialists.

Delivery planning

The mode and timing of delivery will be carefully planned to minimize risks and ensure the best outcome for both the mother and the baby.

It’s crucial for women with pre-existing heart conditions or those experiencing heart problems during pregnancy to receive comprehensive medical care and follow the guidance of their healthcare team. Open and ongoing communication with healthcare providers is essential to manage the condition effectively and ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy.

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