-- Robert Preidt
SUNDAY, Nov. 17, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Heart disease is the
top cause of pregnancy-related deaths in California, but almost
one-third of those deaths could be prevented, a new study
"Women who give birth are usually young and in good health. So heart disease shouldn't be the leading cause of pregnancy-related deaths, but it is," lead researcher Dr. Afshan Hameed, an associate professor of clinical cardiology, obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, Irvine, said in an American Heart Association (AHA) news release.
From 2002 to 2005, there were 2.1 million live births in
California. Hameed and her colleagues analyzed the medical records
of 732 women in the state who died from all causes while pregnant
or within one year of pregnancy, and found that 209 of those deaths
About one-quarter (52) of the pregnancy-related deaths were from
some form of heart disease. Only 6 percent of these women who died
had been diagnosed with a heart condition before the pregnancy.
Two-thirds (33) of the heart-related deaths were from
cardiomyopathy, a disease in which the heart muscle is weakened and
that can lead to heart failure, irregular heartbeats, heart valve
problems and death.
Women most likely to die from pregnancy-related heart disease
were black, obese or were substance abusers during pregnancy.
Nearly one-fourth of the pregnant women who died of heart disease
had been diagnosed with high blood pressure during their
In about two-thirds of the deaths, the diagnosis was either
incorrect or delayed or doctors gave ineffective or inappropriate
treatments, according to the researchers. One-third of the patients
who died had failed to seek or had delayed care, 10 percent refused
medical advice and 27 percent did not recognize their symptoms as
The findings, scheduled for presentation Sunday at the AHA's
annual meeting in Dallas, likely apply to the rest of the United
States, according to Hameed.
"Women should attain and maintain proper weight before and during pregnancy, and talk to their doctors if they have personal or family histories of heart disease," she said.
"And health care providers should be referring pregnant women who complain of symptoms consistent with cardiac disease to specialists, especially when these risk factors are present. Women with evidence of substance abuse should receive early referral for treatment," Hameed added.
However, it is impossible to be certain whether earlier
diagnosis and intervention would have prevented death in these
cases "as missed cues to the presence of heart disease were
common," she said.
Because the study was presented at a medical meeting, the data
and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in
a peer-reviewed journal.
Maternal death rates have been rising in California and the
United States since the mid-1990s, according to the California
Department of Public Health.
The Cleveland Clinic has more about
heart diseases and pregnancy.
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