Heart attacks in pregnant women on the rise, study says

More women are experiencing heart attacks during pregnancy or child birth, according to a study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

For the study, researchers analyzed data on 49 million births among women 18 years and older who were hospitalized while pregnant as identified by the National Inpatient Sample database, from 2002 to 2014.

Researchers found 4,471 heart attack cases occurred per 100,000 hospitalizations. Of these instances, 922 heart attacks occurred during pregnancy, 1,061 heart attacks happened during labor and 2,390 occurred after women gave birth. The hospital mortality rate for women who had a heart attack during or right after pregnancy was 4.5 percent. Overall, heart attack risk for pregnant women increased by 25 percent between 2002 and 2014.

"Although heart attacks in young women are rare, the time during and immediately after pregnancy is a particularly vulnerable period during which heart disease may be unmasked," says study author Nathaniel Smilowitz, MD, cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at NYU Langone Health in New York City, told TIME.

Researchers suggest the increase may be due to more women having children later in life, as older women have a higher risk for heart attacks. Pregnant women ages 35 to 39 were five times more likely to have heart attack compared to pregnant women in their 20s. The risk was greater for pregnant women in their 40s.

"All women should know their cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity, and work with their doctors to control these factors before or early on during pregnancy," Dr. Smilowitz told TIME. "Women who are pregnant, or recently delivered, who develop chest pain or burning should recognize these warning signs and be evaluated by their doctor."

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