An Ohio State University professor recently led a team with the American Heart Association that issued a statement saying that high-risk pregnant women, such as those with high blood pressure or heart disease, should work with a team of multidisciplinary doctors.
When Kara Schooley was pregnant with twins, her obstetrician-gynecologist advised her to to see a cardiologist as part of her pregnancy care.
Schooley, 39, of Hilliard, is a one of the 33% of women in Ohio who have high blood pressure. As that percentage grows, doctors have noticed that women such as Schooley who have cardiovascular issues face a higher risk of health complications when pregnant.
She was worried about her high blood pressure and experienced some discomfort and issues that couldn’t be explained by pregnancy alone.
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“I knew that something was obviously different from a regular pregnancy,” Schooley said. “And I knew I was pregnant with twins, but I really had no idea why (these health issues were) happening. I didn’t know if something was wrong.”
The American Heart Association released a statement in May discussing the risk women with cardiovascular issues may face throughout their pregnancy and the importance of working with teams of doctors who specialize in several different areas.
Dr. Laxmi Mehta, a cardiologist and director of Preventative Cardiology and Women’s Cardiovascular Health at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, led the team that issued the statement and feels that a multidisciplinary team of doctors is the best fit in these situations.
For “the women who already have some underlying heart disease, being evaluated before getting pregnant is essential to determine their safety of pregnancy,” Mehta said. “And that’s where the cardio-obstetrics team comes into play.”
Made up of cardiologists, obstetricians who specialize in high risk cases, anesthesiologists and other doctors, cardio-obstetrics teams can be found in hospitals across the country, said Dr. Laura Gravelin, a cardiac electrophysiologist at the Mount Carmel Health System and co-director of Mount Carmel’s Women’s Heart Program.
Gravelin said while most hospitals have some integration among specialists, patients who need specific care are usually sent to university programs. Locally, that could be the Wexner Medical Center.
Dr. Aarthi Sabanayagam, a cardiologist at the Wexner Medical Center, has worked with the cardio-obstetrics team since she joined the center three years ago.
The team monitors patients throughout their pregnancy by making adjustments to medications and checking the fetus through digital imagery, Sabanayagam said. Each patient also gets an individualized delivery plan so the patient and whoever delivers the baby can be prepared for whatever needs the patient may have.
Sabanayagam said the postpartum time period is still an important time to monitor these high-risk patients.
“The postpartum period, we all sometimes call it the fourth trimester, just because it’s really important and a lot of changes take place,” Sabanayagam said. “Your body’s trying to go back to a new normal state, and that takes a while.”
Gravelin believes a big part of helping patients is ensuring they know what is going on throughout the process.
“I think the most important thing is that education is occurring so that people are informed of what risks exist, that they’re getting the appropriate access to care and then that care is collaborative, and I think most places do that well,” Gravelin said.
Schooley said after her experience she feels it is important for people to talk to their doctors early on so both are better prepared.
“I think it’s really important to have that dialogue with your doctor and have a conversation, if you can, before you get pregnant and to listen to your body,” Schooley said. “If you think something’s wrong, you’re probably right. And it’s better to get it checked out so that the doctors can be on top of it and be able to plan.”