Pregnant Women Face Increased Risk of Heart Attack

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Pregnancy and Heart Attack

Pregnancy increases a woman's risk of suffering a heart attack, and the threat is even higher for women over age 35, according to a recent study conducted by researchers at Duke University Medical Center. Merely being pregnant increase a woman's risk three- to four- fold, and other factors, such as age, smoking or high blood pressure drive the likelihood higher, they found.

The researchers said their findings suggest obstetrician/gynecologists should now consider heart attack as a possible diagnosis when treating pregnant women with chest pains. They also urged women attempting to become pregnant to take steps to prevent heart attacks by lowering their blood pressure, stopping smoking and attaining a healthy weight.

The researchers emphasize that heart attacks, or myocardial infarctions, during pregnancy are rare, occurring in roughly six out of every 100,000 women. However, physicians have not previously appreciated how dramatically pregnancy increases the risk, said Andra James, M.D., MPH, assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology in Duke's Division of Maternal and Fetal Medicine.

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The research findings were published in the March 28, 2006, issue of Circulation. The study was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health.

"Until now, ob/gyns haven't worried about heart attack in pregnancy because women were not old enough for it to be a concern," said James, lead study author. "But, that's changing now because more and more women over ages 35 and 40 are getting pregnant."

Between 2002 and 2003, the birth rate for women ages 35 to 39 rose 6 percent, and it jumped 5 percent for women ages 40 to 44, James said. The birth rate for 40-to-44-year-old women has doubled since 1981, according to a 2001 National Vital Statistics Report.

For their study, the researchers analyzed data on nearly 12.6 million deliveries from 2000 to 2002 through the Nationwide Inpatient Sample from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Of those deliveries, there were 859 heart attacks

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