AHA emphasizes the need for cardio-obstetrics teams



Women with cardiovascular conditions who are planning pregnancy should be assessed and managed by a multidisciplinary team to ensure the best outcomes, according to a statement from the American Heart Association.

A pregnant woman uses a blood pressure monitor. ©American Heart Association

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) remains the leading cause of pregnancy-related mortality in the United States, and accounted for approximately 17 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015, wrote Laxmi S. Mehta, MD, of The Ohio State University, Columbus, and colleagues.

Ideally, a woman with CVD at the time of pregnancy should be managed by a multidisciplinary cardio-obstetrics team that can assess cardiovascular risk, obstetric risk, and fetal risk throughout pregnancy, delivery, and up to a year post partum. The team should develop a shared strategy to promote best outcomes, according to the statement. The cardio-obstetrics team may include obstetricians, cardiologists, anesthesiologists, maternal-fetal medicine specialists, geneticists, neurologists, nurses, and pharmacists, according to the statement.

Women with preexisting CVD should receive counseling about maternal and fetal risks before conception, if possible, to involve the women in shared decision-making and to develop strategies for each stage of pregnancy and delivery, Dr. Mehta and associates said. Such counseling should include a review of all medications and assessment of risk factors.

However, some women present already in the early stages of pregnancy even with severe conditions such as pulmonary arterial hypertension, severe ventricular dysfunction, severe left-sided heart obstruction, and significant aortic dilatation with underlying connective tissue disease. Women with these conditions often are counseled to avoid pregnancy, but if they already are pregnant, a high-risk cardio-obstetrics team will need to work together to discover the best strategies going forward to mitigate risk, Dr. Mehta and associates said.

Common CVD conditions that affect pregnancy include hypertensive disorders, notably preeclampsia, defined as systolic blood pressure greater than 140 mm Hg or diastolic blood pressure greater than 90 mm Hg in women after 20 weeks of gestation whose blood pressure was normal prior to pregnancy. A management strategy to reduce the risk of pregnancy-related complications from hypertension includes healthy lifestyle behaviors such as exercise, nutrition, and smoking cessation, according to the statement. However, patients with severe hypertension may require intravenous labetalol or hydralazine. The statement gives more information about handling preeclampsia with pulmonary edema, and prevention of eclampsia and treatment of seizures.

It is important to recognize that severe hypertension or superimposed preeclampsia may occur for the first time post partum. Early ambulatory visits in the first 1-2 weeks are sensible. Medications may be needed to keep a systolic blood pressure not higher than 150 mm Hg and a diastolic blood pressure not higher than 100 mm Hg, Dr. Mehta and associates said.

According to the statement, severe hypertriglyceridemia and familial hypercholesterolemia are the two most common conditions in which lipids should be addressed during pregnancy, with consideration of the fetal risks associated with certain medications.

“Statins are contraindicated during pregnancy, and all women who are on any lipid-lowering agents should review with their physician the safety of treatment during pregnancy and whether to discontinue treatment before pregnancy,” according to the statement. A heart-healthy lifestyle can help improve lipid profiles in all pregnant patients, Dr. Mehta and associates said. Patients with extremely high triglycerides above 500 mg/dL are at risk of pancreatitis and “may benefit from pharmacological agents (omega-3 fatty acids with or without fenofibrate or gemfibrozil) during the second trimester,” they noted. Pregnant women with familial hypercholesterolemia might take bile acid sequestrants, or as a last resort, low-density lipoprotein apheresis.

Other conditions calling for a multidisciplinary cardio-obstetric approach include preexisting coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathies, arrhythmias, valvular heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, and deep venous thrombosis, according to the statement, which provides information about the risks, diagnosis, and management.

When it is time for delivery, spontaneous labor and vaginal birth are preferable for most women with heart disease, as cesarean delivery is associated with increased risk of infection, thrombotic complications, and blood loss, according to the statement.

Women with CVD and associated complications will require “specialized long-term cardiovascular follow-up,” Dr. Mehta and associates said. “In women with a high-risk pregnancy, a cardio-obstetrics team is essential to prevent maternal morbidity and mortality during the length of the pregnancy and post partum.”

“The release of this document demonstrates the AHA’s recognition of the importance of CVD in pregnancy-related death and their commitment to education and ensuring best practices in this field,” said Lisa M. Hollier, MD, past president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and chief medical officer at Texas Children’s Health Plan, Bellaire.

Dr. Lisa M. Hollier, past president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and chief medical officer at Texas Children's Health Plan, Bellaire

Dr. Lisa M. Hollier

“I think one of the most important outcomes from the release of this scientific statement from AHA will be increased implementation of cardio-obstetrics teams,” she said in an interview.

“In the United States, cardiovascular disease and cardiomyopathy together are now the leading cause of death in pregnancy and the postpartum period, and constitute 26.5% of pregnancy-related deaths, with higher rates of mortality among women of color and women with lower incomes,” she said. “The rising trend in cardiovascular-related maternal deaths appears to be due to acquired, not congenital, heart disease.”

During her tenure as president of ACOG, Dr. Hollier convened a task force on cardiovascular disease in pregnancy that developed guidance that outlines screening, diagnosis, and management of CVD for women from prepregnancy through post partum.

Dr. Hollier noted that COVID-19 emphasizes racial disparities for maternal mortality.

“Pregnant patients with comorbidities, like heart conditions, may be at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 – consistent with the general population with similar comorbidities,” she said. “And as we know, black women’s risk of dying from CVD-related pregnancy complications is 3.4 times higher than that of white women. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing these racial health disparities exacerbated.”

However, any pregnant patients should not hesitate to communicate with their health care providers despite the pandemic situation, Dr. Hollier emphasized. “Communication between a patient and her ob.gyn., cardiologist, or other clinician is even more critical now during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re hearing reports that patients who are experiencing symptoms or those with known cardiac conditions are avoiding the hospital and delaying or not seeking necessary treatment. This has the very real possibility of worsening the devastating maternal mortality crisis that we’re already experiencing in this country.”

To help overcome barriers to treatment, “collaboration between ob.gyns. and cardiologists, such as the cardio-obstetrics team or pregnancy heart team, is critical,” said Dr. Hollier. “These collaborative teams with a multidisciplinary approach can prospectively reduce the communication gaps across specialties when patients are seen separately. They can also improve the communication during care transitions such as between outpatient and inpatient care.

“In reviews of maternal deaths, we have found that there are often delays in diagnosis of heart conditions during and after pregnancy,” Dr. Hollier added. “Most maternal deaths from CVD are due to either undiagnosed cardiovascular disease or new-onset cardiomyopathy. ACOG recommends that all women be assessed for cardiovascular disease in the antepartum and postpartum periods using a recently developed algorithm,” she said. “Women who have known CVD and women who have concerning symptoms should have a consultation with this team. With increased awareness and screening, women can receive the additional care that they need.

“Because management of cardiac conditions in pregnancy is so complex, it is important to ensure that women receive care with teams and in facilities that have appropriate resources,” explained Dr. Hollier. “Women with known heart disease should see a cardiologist prior to pregnancy and receive prepregnancy counseling,” as noted in the AHA statement. “Patients determined to have moderate and high-risk CVD should be managed during pregnancy, delivery, and post partum in a medical center that is able to provide a higher level of care, including a cardio-obstetrics team.”

Early recognition of cardiovascular conditions is essential to help manage care and reduce risks to mother and baby, said Dr. Hollier. “Identification before a woman becomes pregnant means the patient’s care can be properly managed throughout the pregnancy and a detailed delivery plan can be developed through shared decision making between the patient and provider. We must think of heart disease as a possibility in every pregnant or postpartum patient we see to detect and treat at-risk mothers,” she said.

Additional research should focus on identifying risk factors prior to pregnancy, said Dr. Hollier. “There are often delays in recognizing symptoms during pregnancy and post partum, particularly for black women. We need data to understand which protocols are best to identify heart disease,”

Dr. Hollier had no financial conflicts to disclose. The authors of the AHA statement had no financial conflicts to disclose. The scientific statement was produced on behalf of the American Heart Association Council on Clinical Cardiology; Council on Atherosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology; Council on Cardiovascular and Stroke Nursing; and the Stroke Council.

SOURCE: Mehta LS et al. Circulation. 2020 May 4. doi: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000772.

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