American Heart Association seeks improvements in cardiovascular health during pregnancy

Sept. 28, 2021

The American Heart Association (AHA) recently published recommendations for improving cardiovascular health outcomes in women before, during and after pregnancy.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate among industrialized countries with an estimated 700 deaths a year due to pregnancy complications. 

Additionally, the AHA reports that heart disease and stroke contribute to one in three of those deaths, primarily from cardiomyopathy (where the heart loses its ability to effectively pump blood), cerebrovascular disease (conditions that affect blood flow to the brain) or other cardiovascular disorders. For non-Hispanic Black and American Indian/Alaska Native women, it’s nearly two to three times higher than the rate for white women. 

To bring more awareness to the problem and address it medically, an AHA working group, created the new guidelines and published them in a policy statement, “Call to Action: Maternal Health and Saving Mothers,” which is posted online in the AHA journal Circulation.  

The guidelines also address the inequities hindering proper maternal health care for all.  

In the statement, the working group outlines the inequities that influence disparities, and propose approaches to improving maternal outcomes.

“The wheels of science are powered by patient advocacy, and it cannot make an impact in the day-to-day lives of women until policy changes,” said Johns Hopkins Medicine Cardiologist Garima Sharma, MD, working group co-leader. “This statement pulls together science from decades of data and translates that science into actionable items that could make real change that could ultimately save women’s lives.”   

The policy statement provides strategies to reduce overall deaths and address racial disparities in maternal health through a three-pronged approach focused on patients, health care providers and care systems. This approach includes: 

.•    Addressing disparities and inequities by educating providers, improving reporting of maternal outcomes, expanding Medicaid funding in states where it doesn’t exist and increasing public awareness about activities to reduce heart disease (such as smoking cessation). 

•    Modernizing maternal health care delivery by making women more aware of preconception counseling, expanding postpartum care for Medicaid participants to the first year after delivery and transforming provider payment so it prioritizes high quality, lower cost and removes unnecessary services. 

•    Updating technology and systems by modernizing the public health care infrastructure in under-resourced communities and closing the health care gaps between urban and rural areas. 

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