Mothers of babies with heart defects may have long-term heart health risks

A new study indicates that mothers should also take care of their own heart health.

Almost 1 in 100 babies are born with heart disease – and a new study suggests their mothers may be at higher risk of heart problems of their own.

If the child’s heart defect was classified as “critical”, it was even worse for the mothers, with a 43% higher hospitalization rate. These mothers were more than twice as likely to have a heart attack. Moreover, mothers in this “critical” group even had a higher risk of requiring a heart transplant for serious heart disease.

What is the connection?

Could the stress and exhaustion of raising a sick child be a reason?

Since most mothers tend to prioritize their children’s health over their own, they are more likely to miss the early signs of heart disease when it strikes them.

If you are raising a child with heart problems, is there anything you should do to take care of your own health?

There is no additional testing or medication needed, but the results of this study offer important advice for mothers and their doctors.

Heart disease in women is already under-detected and under-treated.

Anyone at increased risk for heart disease—and now we can add these moms to the list—should try to control things like improving their diet (the American Heart Association will tell you how here), exercising, and quitting. To smoke.

Know the warning signs of heart disease.

If all you’re looking for is sudden, crushing chest pain, the classic and most common description of a heart attack, you need to expand your awareness. Less obvious symptoms have been known to appear more in women: difficulty breathing, nausea, fainting or new neck, back or shoulder pain – sometimes without any chest pain at all. Heart failure (decreased heart function that develops over months or years) can manifest as fatigue and decreased ability to exercise, with swelling in the feet or legs.

If you see signs that something is wrong – even, of course, if your children have never had a heart problem – see your doctor, so you can be a good mother again.

Dr. Kelly Arps is a resident physician in internal medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She works with the ABC News medical unit.