WESTWOOD—Heart attacks are not usually concerns of note for pregnant women, but as more and more wait till later in life to become pregnant, rates of heart disease among expectant mothers over the past decade have increased.
“While research has
shown that the heart typically functions better during pregnancy due to a rise
in cardiac pumping capacity to meet increased demands”¦heart attacks occurring
in the last trimester or late months of pregnancy result in worse heart
function and more damaged heart tissue,” according to a study by UCLA
Dubbed “Cardiac vulnerability to ischemia/reperfusion injury drastically increases in late pregnancy,” researchers determined that pregnant women, particularly those in late stages are more vulnerable to a cardiac episode.
The study’s senior author, Dr. Mansoureh Eghbali, an assistant professor of anesthesiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine, hypothesized this research could pioneer new medical advances for pregnant women with a pre-disposition to or who are at-risk for cardiovascular issues.
"We observed worse heart function and a greater area of damage in hearts from the late-pregnancy group, compared to the non-pregnant group," said first author Dr. Jingyuan Li, a postdoctoral fellow at Geffen.
Researchers studied the recovery rates of late-stage pregnant and non-pregnant animals, predominantly mice and rats, after suffering heart attacks. Pregnant animals had only 10 percent restoration after an event compared to the other group’s 80 percent restoration. The severity of heart-related complications in pregnancy was made more evident by the pregnant group’s quadrupled increase in tissue damage.
However, even more surprising were the subjects’ states just one day after giving birth. Heart function was partially restored, and after a week, heart function was near levels of the corresponding non-pregnant state.
The study was targeting ischemia and reperfusion injury, a condition occurring after a heart attack, caused by a lack of blood flow followed by the reintroduction of blood that can cause serious issues, notably cellular damage.
Components of late-stage pregnancy like dysfunctional mitochondria, “key cellular sub-units that are involved in cell death, and the reduction of signaling proteins that protect the heart against reperfusion injury,” endanger pregnant hearts, according to a release from the University.
The next string of studies will be more exploratory, the results of which researchers, including Eghbali, hope will yield revolutionary new drug therapy.
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