Identifying, screening and preventing women's future health risks.

Postpartum Health

Pregnancy as an Indicator for Heart Disease

Heart disease is the number one killer of women in Canada. The top risk factors for heart disease are smoking, obesity and diabetes. Yet, many women without any of these conditions will develop heart disease. Clearly, the traditional male-centric models of heart disease risk do not always apply to women, which is why researchers are working to identify and develop new risk factor models that are specific to women.

As director of the clinician investigator program in the maternal-fetal medicine division at Kingston General Hospital, Dr. Graeme Smith, has proposed pregnancy and the postpartum period as the best time for women to be screened for heart disease risk factors. He describes pregnancy as a physiologic stress test, one that can reveal underlying problems. Failure of the stress test, meaning development of certain pregnancy complications, indicates an increased risk of developing heart disease.

This new and unique approach to screening for heart disease risk factors is being used in his Postpartum Maternal Health Clinic at Kingston General Hospital. This clinic - the first of its kind in North America - is available at 6 months postpartum to women who experienced pregnancy complications including; preeclampsia, HELLP syndrome, gestational hypertension, gestational diabetes, gestational impaired glucose tolerance, intrauterine growth restriction, a term baby less than 2500g, idiopathic preterm delivery or placental abruption. The goals of the clinic are to promote mothers' health, screen for heart disease risk factors and educate women on the links between pregnancy complications and heart disease. Dr. Smith hopes that his clinic and approach to screening can help address this need for education and empower women to take steps to prevent heart disease.

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In the Media

Dr. Smith’s research has caught the attention of a number of media outlets as it highlights the importance of considering female-specific heart disease risk factors and demonstrates the need for education, of both women and doctors, on the unique risk factors and symptoms of heart disease in women.