Cardiovascular Diseases and Other Conditions may Affect Mothers during Pregnancy. If Undiagnosed or Improperly Managed by Medical Providers, Maternal Heart Issues can Have Damaging Consequences.
Many people consider heart disease a problem associated with aging, as the heart grows weaker after decades of lifestyle stressors. However, heart disease affects people of all ages and may even develop during pregnancy. When pregnant women experience cardiovascular disease during pregnancy, whether for the first time or as a worsening pre-existing condition, their risk for pregnancy complications increases.
Main Types of Heart Disease During Pregnancy
Not all cardiovascular disease is the result of lifestyle and pregnancy. Some are born with heart disease. As a matter of fact, most pregnant women with heart disease have had it all their lives. While some women may have had lifelong heart problems, they may have had no symptoms until pregnancy. During pregnancy, pre-existing or post-pregnancy heart conditions may cause difficulties, even dire complications. In fact, one third of all maternal deaths due to pregnancy are related to heart problems, and four out of 100 pregnancy complications are caused by heart disease. Although advanced age, obesity, and hypertension increase the incidence of pregnancy-related fatalities, heart disease is the leading cause of death among pregnant women.
Cardiomyopathy During Pregnancy
One preexisting cardiovascular condition, cardiomyopathy, causes extreme complications during pregnancy. It is a degenerative condition that affects heart muscles, leaving them weak and unable to do the heart’s most important job, pumping blood to fuel the body. Without proper blood distribution, the body suffers oxygen deficiency. As a result, a pregnant woman with cardiomyopathy suffers heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and fatigue.
Prenatal Valve Disease
Other congenital heart conditions include valve, aortic, and congenital heart diseases. The first is valve disease, which causes the four main heart valves to malfunction. The affected valves may not work properly due to valvular stenosis or valvular insufficiency. In the first type, the valves narrow due to stiffening valve tissue, causing reduced blood flow or blockages. With valvular insufficiency, blood flow leaks backwards in the valve due to defective leaflets or flaps that prevent the backward blood flow, keeping it moving forward across the valve.
Similarly, aortic valve disease causes backflow in the aortic valve, the connection between the left ventricle and the aorta or main valve that directs blood flow through the heart to the rest of the body.
Congenital Heart Disease while Pregnant
Finally, congenital heart disease is the name for the heart’s structural defects, which can be problems with the blood vessels that cause too much or too little blood flow, a hole in the heart wall, or valve defects. Some defects result in poor oxygenation and others result in poor blood flow. Symptoms include fatigue, breathlessness, respiratory problems, sleepiness, poor blood circulation and weak pulse.
Why do Existing Heart Problems Worsen During Pregnancy?
Pre-existing heart problems worsen during pregnancy because of the bodily changes that occur. Pregnancy increases blood volume, heart rate, and cardiac output, which refers to the blood volume pumped per minute. All these pregnancy effects cause similar symptoms to cardiac disease, such as fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, swollen ankles, and heart palpitations. The danger exists when normal pregnancy symptoms mask the more dangerous condition of heart disease. A physician may disregard heart palpitations as normal when they could indicate a more serious heart condition. And a pre-existing heart condition may worsen with the strain that pregnancy adds to the heart in pumping the extra blood.
Risks of Maternal Cardiovascular Issues During Pregnancy
A pregnant woman with congenital heart disease may experience an abnormal heartbeat, called arrhythmia, and heart failure. They also risk premature births. Generally, the risks of any pre-existing heart conditions are commensurate to the severity and type of congenital heart disease. Mild conditions cause less risk for heart failure, for example, than for more severe conditions. So mild stenosis, small valve leaks, mild valve disease, and a small hole in the heart typically cause less risk for pregnancy complications than extensive hardening of the aortic and pulmonary valve tissue (stenosis) and larger valve leaks.
Aortic disease raises the risk of fatal aneurysms and cardiomyopathy causes the most pregnancy complications and deaths. Additionally, pregnant women with artificial heart valves after valve replacement need special care and attention since pregnancy and artificial valves increase blood clot risks. Moreover, those with prosthetic valves typically take blood thinner medications to avoid blood clots. Anticoagulants (blood thinners) can harm the baby and raise the risk for endocarditis, an infection of the heart that requires speedy antibiotic treatment.
Can Pregnancy Cause Heart Problems?
Pregnancy can also cause heart problems, most commonly high blood pressure that typically occurs in the second trimester of pregnancy, and heart arrhythmias. Chronic hypertension and preeclampsia, both high blood pressure conditions, can cause organ damage. Eclampsia, another high blood pressure condition, can cause seizures and even death. Those with pre-existing congenital heart disease who develop arrhythmia during pregnancy may need treatment to regulate the heartbeat. However, spontaneous coronary artery dissection, a tear in an artery to the heart, is a life-threatening heart ailment that can occur shortly after delivery.
Other heart conditions that can develop during or after pregnancy include myocardial ischemia, peripartum cardiomyopathy, deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. Myocardial ischemia may be caused by genetics and lifestyle factors, such as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or obesity, and often causes insufficient blood flow to the heart. It can also lead to heart attacks. Similarly, peripartum cardiomyopathy is insufficient blood flow but to the rest of the body, which occurs after delivery. It can also cause heart failure. And deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism are blood clots, the former to a deep vein in the body and the latter to the lungs, which are treated with blood thinners.
Is Pregnancy a Bad Idea for Some Women with Cardiovascular Conditions?
Some heart conditions, like severe aortic valve stenosis, mitral valve stenosis, and coarctation of the aorta (narrowing of aorta), are too risky for pregnancy, and many heart medications are too dangerous to take during pregnancy.
Increased Monitoring, Diagnosis, and Proper Treatment and Management of Prenatal Heart Disease is Essential
With so many risks associated with heart disease, a physician and pregnant woman must carefully plan and monitor a pregnancy, so that an expectant mother with a heart condition can adjust their medications, monitor their weight gain, and exercise safely. Even more important is the timely diagnosis of heart conditions that develop during pregnancy. Since the symptoms of heart disease may be difficult to decipher from ordinary pregnancy symptoms, an obstetrician must err on the side of caution when it comes to symptoms that mimic heart conditions, such as breathlessness and swelling. A missed diagnosis could lead to severe injury or death to both mother and child when a mother goes into heart failure and suffers hypoxia or an aneurysm.
Suffered Harm due to Medical Negligence with Pregnancy Heart Problems in New Jersey?
Horrifying as it is to imagine, doctors miss heart disease signs and lose patients and their babies due to breaches in the standard of care. The tragedy to mothers and their families is unimaginable. Although nothing replaces a loved one or restores them wholly in the same condition they were in before, there is some consolation that financial assistance is available through a medical malpractice, birth injury, or wrongful death claim. While money does not replace a loved one or make you whole after suffering pregnancy complications, it can help pay bills and fill the financial gap while an injured victim recovers, or the family copes with the aftermath of their loss.
Although medical malpractice victims are awarded compensation for their economic, physical, and psychological damages, obtaining the full financial award you are entitled to from the responsible party alone is extremely difficult, given the stringent set of laws and procedures governing medical malpractice claims in New Jersey. This is why it is invaluable to have the assistance of a dedicated team of attorneys with the extent of knowledge, preparation, and tactical skill that only develops while handling medical malpractice claims for years.
How our Team of New Jersey Pregnancy Heart Problems Attorneys can Help
Our team of seasoned medical malpractice lawyers at Fronzuto Law Group are committed solely to the practice of medical medical and wrongful death law in New Jersey, which provides us with a unique advantage when taking on the challenges of complicated cases. We understand the suffering of injured patients and their loved ones, and we passionately fight for our clients on a daily basis to ensure that they are justly compensated.
In our practice, our New Jersey medical malpractice attorneys allay fears, provide comfort, exercise empathy, and use our legal knowledge and training to handle medical professionals, insurance companies, witnesses, judges, medical experts, court clerks, and many others that we encounter on the way to negotiating a settlement or trying a medical malpractice case in court. If you have questions about filing a lawsuit for injuries or a loved one’s death due to negligent medical care for pregnancy heart problems or another prenatal cardiovascular condition, contact us to speak with a medical malpractice attorney today. Please call us directly at (973)-435-4551 or give us a synopsis of your case through our website and someone from our team will get in touch with you shortly.