One Mom's Terrifying Ordeal Highlights Dangerous Pregnancy Complication

I can't count how many times I've accused my children of nearly giving me a heart attack. From the scary bout of breakthrough bleeding when I was pregnant with my first son to the incident literally an hour ago involving my youngest running face-first into a sliding glass door, it seems like kids are hell-bent on causing a lifetime of elevated heart stress from the moment they're conceived.

As it turns out, for some women, it's no exaggeration that motherhood can have traumatic effects on the heart. As the recent experience of one 39-year-old mom shows, cardiovascular disease is a rare complication of pregnancy—even for those with no previous history of heart problems.


Suzanne Karhu of North Texas gave birth to a little girl in late December, and everything seemed perfectly normal for the new mom and her family. However, just two weeks later, she was calling her husband in a panic before being rushed to the emergency room, where doctors diagnosed Karhu with a coronary dissection.

Unbelievably, one of the main arteries to her heart had ripped wide open.

Her cardiologist acted quickly, moving from an initial examination and X-ray straight to emergency open heart triple bypass surgery. He knew that in such a
life threatening condition, every second counted:

[The X-ray] actually only took the first picture. I was shaking for two hours ... that's how close she was to death.

Thankfully, Karhu is expected to make a full recovery, but it's hard to imagine a closer call. Coronary dissection is so dangerous, it usually isn't diagnosed until after death.

As for why this happened to Karhu, it seems she was one of the unlucky 1 to 4 percent of women who
experience cardiac disease as the result of pregnancy. It's a rare complication, but some experts suspect hormones or the stress of childbirth may weaken heart muscle. Other potential contributing factors include increased blood volume, increased heart rate, and blood pressure fluctuations.

While no one wants to dwell on statistically remote health complications during pregnancy, it's definitely worth being aware of the
symptoms of pregnancy-related heart problems. Signs include fatigue, feeling of racing heart or skipping beats, increased nighttime urination, shortness of breath, and swelling. Of course, those all sound like the average pregnancy discomforts all of us are somewhat familiar with—but expectant moms should be aware of any drastic changes, and tell their doctors right away.

Without swift intervention (and more than a little luck, I'm sure), Suzanne Karhu wouldn't be here today, and her little girl would grow up without her mom. Her experience reminds me to be more thankful of my health, and not take this life for granted ... because you never know what's around the corner.

Did you have any idea that cardiac disease is occasionally associated with pregnancy?

Image via Flickr

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