When you hear that February is American Heart Month, it might make you think of your grandparents who have cardiovascular disease. But did you know that if you’ve ever had preeclampsia, it’s just as important for you to pay attention to what this month means, too? That’s because a diagnosis you may have only had for a brief time in pregnancy actually affects your heart health for the rest of your life.
Preeclampsia is defined by having high blood pressure in pregnancy combined with other findings such as certain lab abnormalities affecting the kidneys and liver. It can also be associated with headaches, liver pain, and vision changes. Having this diagnosis often means extra monitoring and depending on the severity, early delivery.
For most pregnant people, delivery is the cure for preeclampsia, while in others it may only be diagnosed in the days and weeks after birth. Some people will need to take blood pressure medications for a short while after giving birth.
If you’ve ever had preeclampsia, that puts you at a 3-to-4-time increased risk of eventually developing hypertension at some point in your lifetime and doubles your lifelong risk of stroke and heart disease. These increased risks mean you need increased screening and testing for these complications.
Here’s what is currently recommend if you’ve had preeclampsia, and there’s no better time than American Heart Month to discuss these with your healthcare provider:
- Aim for a healthy weight
- Keep your blood pressure below 130/80
- Quit smoking if you currently smoke
- Increased screening for high cholesterol and diabetes
- Eat a heart-healthy diet
- Exercise at least 20+ minutes a day
- Have a preconception visit before your next pregnancy to discuss ways to lower your risk of preeclampsia occurring again
The Preeclampsia Foundation has an excellent tracking sheet called “My Health Beyond Pregnancy” that can help you communicate your history to future healthcare professionals and help remind you of recommendations to optimize your heart health.
When you’re educated, you can be empowered to care for yourself and advocate for the screening and care you deserve. This American Heart Month, feel free to reach out to your healthcare provider to let them know your preeclampsia history if they’ve never asked. Together you can make a plan to protect your heart and keep it healthy for years to come.
- Having preeclampsia increases your risk for heart disease later in life.
- If you’ve had preeclampsia, there are things you can do to modify this risk.
- Check out the tracking sheet from the Preeclampsia Foundation to help get the conversation started.