Pregnancy can put stress on a heart and is often described as a woman’s first stress test. The stress of pregnancy may cause some women to develop adverse pregnancy outcomes such as preeclampsia, gestational hypertension, preterm birth, gestational diabetes, and babies born small for their gestational age. These adverse pregnancy outcomes have been found to increase the mother’s risk of heart disease later in life. But exactly how much impact is there?
That’s why new mothers such as Rakhi Srivastava, MOT, OTR/L, are participating in a study through
The Women’s Heart Center at the Christ Hospital with funding from the National Institutes of Health. The study is called Hypertensive Disorders of Pregnancy: Pathways to Future Cardiovascular Disease. Its purpose is to better understand the long-term effects of disorders of pregnancy, such as preeclampsia, on women’s heart health later in life.
Walking the walk
Rakhi is an occupational therapist specializing in pelvic floor health and rehabilitation – an area that impacts a lot of women. As a provider who works with mostly women, she knows the importance of learning as much as we can about factors that impact women’s health. She agreed to participate in the study once she was eligible.
“It’s important to the future of medicine to be able to put objective numbers behind the stress of pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood,” she says. “That’s why I thought it was important to participate as a ‘healthy control,’ meaning I didn’t experience preeclampsia during pregnancy. It was my way as a mother and a provider to ‘walk the walk.’”
Preeclampsia is a hypertensive disorder that occurs during pregnancy, which can cause a rapid rise in blood pressure and may cause damage to organs, such as the kidneys. It impacts between five and eight percent of all pregnancies, but to really understand its impact on the future health of mothers, the study requires a “healthy control” group – meaning women who qualify for the study who did not have preeclampsia, but who undergo the same testing as those who do for the sake of comparison.
Greater knowledge through numbers – and diversity
“Differences between healthy mothers and those who experience conditions can be subtle, so it’s critical to have healthy volunteers to allow us to accurately see the difference,” says
Odayme Quesada, MD, Medical Director for the Women’s Heart Center who is leading the study through
The Carl and Edyth Lindner Research Center. “Even if you are healthy, you can make an important contribution to advancing our understanding of the risk factors and disease that predominantly affect women.”
Dr. Quesada says it’s also important for minorities to participate in this and similar studies and she urges those new mothers to consider participating for the benefit of future mothers.
“We didn’t even really begin to specifically study heart disease in women until the 1990s,” she says. “A lot of questions still remain unanswered, and unfortunately even less is known about heart health in African American, Latina and other underrepresented minorities.”
Caring for herself to help others
Rakhi says she knows the importance of studies such as this one to better understand the impact of pregnancy on women’s health, but she also finds personal value in participating.
“We’re doing this for the health of future moms,” she says, “but it’s also a chance for current moms to take the time and take care of themselves. It’s a much more detailed and complete examination than most healthy mothers have access to. There’s no reason for me to get an EKG, cardiac MRI, or an extensive lipid panel. I was able to walk away with much more information about my health than I had before.”
While her results were mostly normal, she says her lipid panel gave her a couple items to watch in the future and for discussion at her next annual physical.
“I was able to confirm my overall heart health, but it’s good information to have,” she says.
Rakhi says it’s common for women’s perspectives to change once they become mothers, making it easy to neglect their own health because they are so focused on their children. But she points out that women being proactive about their own health is better for their children in the long run.
“When you’re on an airplane, they tell you to put on your own mask first in the event of an emergency,” she says. “You can’t help others if you don’t first take care of yourself. That’s motherhood. If you’re healthy, you’ll better be able to take care of those who depend on you.”
About the study
The study involves one visit to The Christ Hospital. The visit lasts about four hours and involves questions about your past medical and pregnancy history, a collection of blood and urine samples, non-invasive tests to measure blood pressure and how well blood moves through your veins, an electrocardiogram (often referred to as an ECG or EKG) and an MRI of your heart.
“The study involves specialized cardiac testing at no cost to the patient and compensation for the participant’s time and effort,” Dr. Quesada says. “It can detect if there are abnormalities in the structure and function of your heart. This can be beneficial to both women who have had preeclampsia and those with normal pregnancies.”
The study is enrolling women who are at least 18 years old and have given birth in the last 2-10 years – including those who had preeclampsia during pregnancy and individuals who had healthy pregnancies. Women who participate in the study receive $200 for their time and travel.
Women who are currently pregnant or breastfeeding, had multiples (twins, triplets, etc.), given birth 4 times or more, are obese, have high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, asthma, COPD, or cannot have an MRI are not able to participate.
For more information, call 513-585-1777 or email:
WHCResearch@TheChristHospital.com. Or, you can
click here to download a flier with more details about the study, or
take this free online risk assessment to see if you qualify.