Study links valvular heart disease with pregnancy complications

A pregnant woman has her blood pressure taken by a health care professional.

Women with valvular heart disease were more likely to have cardiovascular events during pregnancy and experience pregnancy complications, according to an NHLBI-supported study in The American Journal of Cardiology.

After reviewing data from 11.2 million women who gave birth in the U.S. between 2016-2018, researchers identified 20,349 who had a condition that affected one of their heart valves. While relatively uncommon, valvular heart disease can occur at birth or be acquired later in life, such as with rheumatic fever or due to an infection. The researchers found women with valvular heart disease were more likely to have cardiovascular-related conditions during pregnancy, such as an irregular heart rhythm and heart failure, compared to women without a heart valve condition. They were also more likely to experience pregnancy complications, such as preeclampsia, which results from a sudden rise in blood pressure during pregnancy and can increase the risk for severe outcomes, including organ failure, as well as for hypertension later in life.

While certain types of valvular heart disease have been associated with pregnancy complications, the connection between a “leaky heart valve,” where blood can leak into the chambers of the heart if a heart valve doesn’t close tightly enough, was previously thought of as benign. Based on this analysis, the authors recommend pregnant women with any type of heart valve condition could benefit from early cardiovascular monitoring and care.