Heart Rhythm Issues and Pregnancy: A Cause for Concern?

Your circulatory system is only really designed to support one person. But when you’re pregnant, it’s doing the work for two.

Though your heart and circulatory system can handle the extra volume, it is an extra strain on the body. A pregnant woman’s blood volume increases by 30 to 50 percent to support the baby, and the heart pumps around 25 percent faster. Blood vessels dilate, and the heart actually grows larger to compensate for the extra effort.

Labor and delivery are a significant source of stress on the cardiovascular system too. During labor, there are abrupt swings in pressure and volume that can persist for several weeks after giving birth.

These changes are part of the natural process of pregnancy. But in cases where there’s an underlying issue, that extra circulatory system stress can exacerbate symptoms. It can even cause atrial fibrillation that wasn’t an issue before.

So how much do you have to be concerned about heart rhythm issues in pregnancy?

Pre-conception care

If you’re already aware of a heart rhythm problem, talk with your doctors before attempting to conceive. Most common heart problems are not a huge issue for pregnancy—thousands of women conceive and give birth naturally with atrial fibrillation every year. But there are a few problems that pose a significantly higher risk.

Narrowing of the aortic or mitral valves can be life-threatening for the mother or baby. Pulmonary hypertension and some congenital heart defects and conditions may also make pregnancy dangerous. Heart valve issues and congestive heart failure can also be problems that can cause issues or worsen during pregnancy.

Before you decide to have a child, get a checkup of your overall cardiac health to find out if there’s anything you need to be aware of before trying to conceive. Many issues can be treated with medication, but you may be referred to a high-risk obstetrician for pregnancy care.

During pregnancy

If you begin to have heart palpitations during pregnancy, it’s not usually a cause for concern. Heart palpitations are a very common side effect of pregnancy and unless they’re chronic or accompanied by other red flags, they’re usually nothing to worry about. Still, if you’re concerned, it’s worth asking your doctor and getting it checked out. 

If you have a known heart rhythm issue going into pregnancy, you may have more frequent visits with your healthcare team to monitor both your health and your baby’s health. If medication is required to treat your heart rhythm issue, consult with both your cardiologist and your obstetrician about whether you should change to a different medication for the duration of your pregnancy. 

After pregnancy

If you had a heart rhythm issue prior to pregnancy or one developed during, you’ll likely continue to see your cardiologist after giving birth. Often heart palpitations that occur during pregnancy will go away after pregnancy. Atrial fibrillation may stay if there’s been some permanent damage to the heart, but this is rare.

Pregnancy is an extra strain on the heart, but with careful monitoring most women can have a healthy, happy child—even with an underlying heart condition. Talk to your doctor about any concerns, and feel free to contact Oklahoma Heart Hospital if you feel like you need some specialized help. We’re here to serve you.