February 11, 2021
A Northwestern Medicine study released last year indicated that less than 5% of pregnant women in the United States are in 'good heart health.' "Heart disease is the leading cause of death in pregnant and recent postpartum women," explains Bridget Beck, MD, a cardiologist with Denver Heart at Swedish Medical Center. "There is a newer term that describes this field: cardio-obstetrics. Experts in cardio-obstetrics are encouraging women to take an active role in their heart care—especially during the vulnerable time of pregnancy."
A woman's body experiences many changes during pregnancy to allow her body to nourish and grow her unborn child. Many of these changes affect the heart—blood volume in the body increases by 40-50%; cardiac output increases 30-40%; heart rate can increase by 10-15 beats per minute and blood pressure can decrease as it diverts more blood to the uterus. All these changes lead to feelings of fatigue, shortness of breath and lightheadedness. To some extent, these changes are normal and expected. But, for some women, this added stress may put enough pressure on the heart that complications arise. "It is important to keep an eye out for symptoms such as extreme swelling or weight gain, extreme fatigue, fainting, persistent cough, chest pain, fast heartbeat, and severe shortness of breath while lying down," Dr. Beck highlights. "While some of these symptoms are normal with pregnancy, if they are severe, persistent or unexplainable, it is important to talk to your doctor."
While an OB/GYN monitors heart health during regular visits, women at higher risk should consider seeking treatment from a cardiologist who offers cardio-obstetric care. Higher risk women include those who are experiencing heart concerns like those listed above, are of advanced maternal age (35 years or older) or have an existing heart condition.
"For women who are pregnant and looking for support in heart care — whether for a new or an existing concern — we provide risk factor assessments, education and specialized treatment based on her specific needs," Dr. Beck highlights. "By establishing a relationship with us before you get pregnant, we can work closely with you during the prenatal, pregnancy and postpartum period to ensure you and your baby are as healthy as possible."
"Many women focus their concern on the health of their babies, which is important. But women should also remember that caring for their own bodies and hearts is vital as well," Dr. Beck stresses. "It's only when you are in your best health, that you can be the best caregiver for your family."
Dr. Beck is a member of Denver Heart, a team of heart experts based out of Swedish Medical Center and Rose Medical Center. This team of highly regarded physicians and support staff has office locations in Centennial at the Centrum Building, located at 8200 East Belleview Avenue, Suite #295SE; in Lakewood at 333 South Wadsworth Boulevard, Suite 217; at Swedish Medical Center 701 East Hampden Avenue, Suite 350 and at Rose Medical Center 4545 East 9th Avenue, Suite 670. Learn more about heart care for pregnant women at Denver Heart, Swedish Medical Center .
Bridget Beck, MD, FACC, is a board-certified, Cleveland Clinic fellowship trained cardiologist with Denver Heart at Swedish Medical Center. Dr. Beck earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame. She moved on to Chicago for medical school and internal medicine residency where she attended Loyola University and University of Chicago, respectively. From there, she was accepted to the prestigious Cleveland Clinic to complete a fellowship in cardiology. Her medical interests include cardiac imaging including echocardiography, trans-esophageal echocardiography and nuclear stress testing, with a special interest in valvular heart disease. She also has an interest in women's cardiac health. She is board certified in cardiovascular disease and adult echocardiography.