Pregnancy Increases Risk of Heart Attack

A new study reveals that pregnancy can double or even triple a woman’s risk of heart attack even though heart attacks are rare among young women. The study report, published in the July 15th issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, states that approximately 250 pregnant women every year suffer from a heart attack. The mortality rate can be particularly high in these women because diagnosing heart problems is frequently missed or delayed. However, as I was reading the study group information, it was revealed that 45% of the women in the group smoked. That in itself would make a huge difference in the study outcome.

Dr. Uri Elkayam, a professor of medicine at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, says that one reason for the increase in the number of pregnant women having heart attacks is that women in the United States are becoming pregnant at much later ages. So Dr. Elkayam says that it is anticipated that the number of pregnant women who have heart attacks would increase.

In the study, Elkayam’s team reviewed the cases of 103 women who had heart attacks during their pregnancy. Women who had a heart attack in the 24 hours before or after delivery were twice as likely to die from heart attack compared with women who had a heart attack before labor or in the first day to three months after delivery, the team found. Elkayam’s group also found that older pregnant women were at greater risk for having a heart attack. In fact, 72 percent of the women who had heart attacks were older than 30, and one in four were older than 35. One of the most common causes of heart attacks among pregnant women was coronary dissection, where the wall of the coronary arteries is weakened and separates. “This is a rare type of heart attack,” Elkayam said.

The researchers also found during the study that the majority of the group studied did not have blocked arteries which are a common cause of heart attack. Many of the women had the “standard risk factors” for for heart attack:

  • 45% were smokers
  • 24% had high cholesterol
  • 22% had a family history of heart attack
  • 15% had high blood pressure
  • 11% had diabetes