One of the most common causes of heart attacks among pregnant women was coronary dissection, where the wall of the coronary arteries is weakened and separates. "This is a rare type of heart attack," Elkayam said.
Most women in this group did not have atherosclerosis or blocked arteries, the usual causes of heart attack, he noted.
Many women studied had standard risk factors for heart attack, Elkayam said. Among these women, 45 percent smoked, 24 percent had high cholesterol, 22 percent had a family history of heart attack, 15 percent had high blood pressure, and 11 percent had diabetes.
However, "early diagnosis and appropriate treatment can result in an improvement in outcome," Elkayam said. "Ten years ago, the mortality rate was 20 percent. Now, it's between 5 and 10 percent. So, we are making progress."
Dr. Jeffrey S. Berger, from the department of cardiovascular medicine at Duke University Medical Center, in Durham, N.C., said that "fortunately, this is not a very common experience."
However, internists and cardiologists should be aware of the increased risk of heart attack during pregnancy, he said. "Women who have risk factors for heart disease should take this into consideration and speak with their physicians about it," Berger added.
For more on women and heart disease, visit the American Heart Association.
SOURCES: Uri Elkayam, M.D., professor, medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles; Jeffrey S. Berger, M.D., department of cardiovascular medicine, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C.; July 15, 2008, Journal of the American College of Cardiology
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