IDAHO — It's only January, but American Heart Month is just around the corner.
Heart Month encourages everyone to focus on their cardiovascular health, something that coincides with the mission of the Go Red for Women movement.
"The American Heart Association's Go Red for Women movement has funded lifesaving women's research, advanced public health policy, championed closing gender gaps and research in STEM, and created a platform for women to address their greatest health risk: cardiovascular disease," says Ashley Knight, a Clinical Account Manager with Regence BlueShield.
Go Red for Women is now in its 18th year. One of the main goals is educating women and encouraging them to 'know your numbers' aka your blood sugar, blood cholesterol, blood pressure, and body weight.
A focus during this year's campaign is on maternal health as heart disease is the number one killer of new moms.
"Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of maternal death in the United States," Knight explains. "Cardiovascular disease can impact women's heart health during pregnancy and later in life. Making sure women understand how to care for themselves allows them to recover from delivery and care for their baby."
One way to stay safe and protect your heart is by taking steps to improve your health before getting pregnant.
"Exercising and making sure your heart is really healthy prior to pregnancy allows you to lower the likelihood of pregnancy complications," says Knight.
Pregnancy complications occur in about 10 to 20 percent of all pregnancies in the United States. Many are linked to cardiovascular issues and can happen during pregnancy or delivery and a week to a year postpartum. They can also affect more than just the pregnant person.
"Some of those complications include preeclampsia, gestational high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, preterm births, or babies that are born underweight," says Knight. "Many of these complications during pregnancy can contribute to chronic diseases later in life."
Preeclampsia, in particular, can increase a woman's chances of dying from cardiovascular disease by 75 percent. While that condition is commonly heard of as happening during pregnancy, it's one of the complications that can actually happen postpartum as well.
"Symptoms that are normal following delivery are fatigue and mild pain, but sometimes stranger symptoms can be a sign of stroke, heart problems, or other dangerous conditions," Knight explains. "Things to look out for include headache, dizziness or fainting, changes in vision, fever over 100.4 degrees. Typically, those symptoms will subside 48 hours following delivery, but postpartum preeclampsia can sometimes develop up to six weeks after birth."