patient wearing gown seated while a physician uses a stethoscope during a check up. The image is in black and white

How UTMB Health is combating the rising cardiovascular maternal mortality rate

headshot of female physician with long brown hair split down the middle, wearing a white coat and smiling The United States is currently experiencing an accelerated rate of maternal mortality due to cardiovascular disease. To help combat this issue, doctors at UTMB Health are currently working on a Cardio/Obstetrics program.

Heading up the program is Dr. Danielle El Haddad, a general cardiologist with a specialization in cardiac imaging, including echocardiography/nuclear medicine and cardio-obstetrics. According to Dr. El Haddad, the death rate in the U.S. is now 10 times higher compared to other developed countries, with approximately 18 white or Hispanic women dying for every 100,000 live births, and 55 Black women dying for every 100,000 live births.

A few of the major causes for the uptick can be attributed to genetics, women getting pregnant at a later age, as well as diet and exercise habits. Having multiple children can also increase the risk for cardiovascular problems occurring during and after pregnancy.“We want to raise awareness to make sure that these women are taken care of early on—if possible during pre-pregnancy—if patients are really at very high risk. We need to refer them to cardiology early on, so they can be followed regularly and be really aggressive in their preventive and screening measures,” Dr. El Haddad said. “The most critical period is postpartum. This is when moms have the highest risk for having heart failure, which is called peripartum cardiomyopathy. They are also at increased risk of having a heart attack. The highest risk is at seven days postpartum.”

Although there are genetic factors at play that can’t be changed, Dr. El Haddad recommends a few things to help women lower their risk:
  • Control and maintain a healthy diet
  • Keep up a regular exercise routine
  • Follow up with doctors every month, if not more often, when over the age of 35
Dr. El Haddad also stressed the importance of postpartum appointments.

“This is where the mortality is rising because postpartum patients think, ‘Oh, after six weeks I'm done.’ They have the six weeks postpartum visit with the OB and then they decided not to follow up further with anyone else, including their cardiologist,” she said. “The peripartum cardiomyopathy can appear up to six months after delivery, so it's critical to follow these patients.”

Just like there are steps patients can take during pregnancy, there are also things they can do after pregnancy to reduce risks, including:
  • Returning to exercise once cleared by a doctor
  • Incorporating self-care and reducing stress when possible
  • Not ignoring symptoms like swelling or increased heart rate
  • Keeping up with primary care appointments and getting help when needed
To help kickstart the program and raise awareness of this issue, Dr. El Haddad shared a grand rounds presentation on her evolving work with UTMB primary care providers to not only make them aware of this crisis, but also to teach them how to catch potential cardiovascular problems or risks early in their patients.

Awareness around this issue is not yet very widespread, so through opportunities like grand rounds presentations, cardiologists are attempting to take action and be involved with the care of at-risk patients along with OB-GYNs, PCPs and family doctors. The ultimate goal of the program is to improve maternal outcomes regionally with multidisciplinary interventions. Clear and constant communication between departments is key for these patients.

“The goal is to have a safe pregnancy, delivery and postpartum periods,” Dr. El Haddad said.

To learn more about the risks associated with pregnancy and cardiovascular disease, visit UTMB Health or  make an appointment today.

The above story was produced by Sierra Rozen, senior multiplatform journalist with Community Impact with information solely provided by the local business as part of their "sponsored content" purchase through our advertising team. Our integrity promise to our readers is to clearly identify all CI Storytelling posts so they are separate from the content decided upon, researched and written by our journalism department.