If you had preeclampsia when you were pregnant, you may be at greater risk for heart disease later in life — and that chance is higher for Black women. Here’s what we’re doing at MetroHealth to protect you and your heart.
Contributed by Kathleen Quealy, MD | Cardiology
Heart health is often the last thing new moms think about, but many should. Certain pregnancy-related conditions, such as preeclampsia and gestational diabetes, can put women, especially Black women, at a higher lifelong risk for cardiovascular disease, says Kathleen Quealy, MD, a MetroHealth cardiologist.
The statistics are startling: Two out of three women in the United States who had preeclampsia will die of heart disease.
Understanding Preeclampsia and Heart Risks
Preeclampsia is a late-pregnancy condition where uncontrolled high blood pressure puts moms-to-be at risk for preterm delivery, seizures, strokes, and even death. It occurs in 5% to 8% of all pregnancies and impacts Black women the most.
Women who have had preeclampsia are twice as likely to develop heart disease and have a stroke, and four times as likely to develop hypertension, even five to 15 years after giving birth.
You’re at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease if you had preeclampsia and:
- delivered a pre-term and/or low birthweight baby
- had severe preeclampsia more than once
Highlighting Risks for Black Women
While cardiovascular is the number one killer of women, Black women have almost double the risk of stroke than white women.
Nearly 59% of Black women ages 20 and older have cardiovascular disease, says Dr. Quealy. Higher diabetes and obesity rates among Black individuals also increase their risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.
Making things worse, Black people face barriers to healthcare, such as structural racism, environmental factors, and lack of access to healthcare — all of which impact their overall risks.
That’s where MetroHealth’s Cardiology Risk Factor Modification Clinic comes in. The clinic helps women (and men) at high risk for cardiovascular disease reduce or manage their risk factors. If you experienced preeclampsia or gestational diabetes during pregnancy, pay special attention. These important lifestyle changes may reduce your heart disease risk by up to 80%:
- Get checked out. A primary care provider can discuss risks and check your current blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar numbers.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet. Simple changes like limiting red meat and processed and packaged food, and upping the intake of fresh fruit and vegetables, make a big difference.
- Watch salt intake. “People of color, in general, are much more sensitive to the effects of salt in their diet,” says Dr. Quealy. Aim for less than 1,500 mg of sodium a day.
- Get active. Try to get 30 minutes of exercise a day, even split up throughout the day, at least five days a week. Every little bit helps.
- Don’t smoke. Or, if you smoke, do your best to quit.
- Reduce weight. If you are overweight, losing even 5% of your body weight can get your blood pressure into a healthy range.