During American Heart Month, HCA Florida Healthcare’s Cardiovascular Experts Emphasize Maternal Heart Health for At-Risk Women


Overweight Women Who Become Pregnant Twice As Likely to Experience Heart Disease Later in Life

As the nation recognizes February as American Heart Month, doctors with HCA Florida Healthcare have an important message for women considering pregnancy or who may already be pregnant.

Women who are overweight and become pregnant are at a significantly greater risk – in some studies twice as likely – to experience heart disease later in life as a result of gestational diabetes developed during pregnancy.

“Without lifestyle changes after the delivery of their child, those who develop gestational diabetes are much more likely in mid life to develop calcium in heart arteries which leads to the build up of plaque,” explains Dr. Allan Stewart, cardiovascular surgery medical director of HCA Florida Healthcare’s Miami-Dade County hospitals. He is one of 2,500 physicians who make up HCA Florida Healthcare’s cardiovascular network, one of the state’s leading cardiac surgery teams.

Gestational diabetes impacts up to 10 percent of U.S. pregnancies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The condition is more likely in overweight individuals with a higher body mass index (BMI).

About half of women with gestational diabetes go on to develop type 2 diabetes, according to the CDC.

“Which is why it is very important for women, whether they are planning to become pregnant or not, to know their numbers. It is not just obesity and diabetes that can make a woman’s pregnancy high risk, but also high blood pressure and a sedentary lifestyle, as these risk factors can increase the risk of the development of peripartum cardiomyopathy,” explains Dr. Tara Hrabowski-Blackman who specializes in advanced heart failure and transplant cardiology at HCA Florida Largo Hospital. “Peripartum cardiomyopathy is heart failure that occurs during pregnancy and/or into the period after delivery. Women who have this condition are at risk of having heart disease and heart failure even years after giving birth, especially if they decide to become pregnant again.”

The good news, Stewart says, is if a patient views gestational diabetes as a moment to hit the reset button and eat healthier, lose weight and exercise after a baby is delivered, then there’s a good chance one won’t develop diabetes or coronary disease later in life.

“It’s very correctable,” he adds. “However those with unhealthy habits that lead to gestational diabetes in the first place more often than not maintain those unhealthy habits after they’ve had a baby,” he adds. “It’s not a genetic issue, it’s a lifestyle issue. It’s a cycle we have to break, and it starts with education.”

Recommendations for new mothers include breastfeeding, regular physical activity and blood sugar tests, increased fiber intake and fewer sweets such as sodas and desserts.

As always, individuals should consult with their primary care physician when considering any weight loss program.