When Ursula Bouzaid suffered a heart attack four months after giving birth, it came as a complete surprise because she considered herself healthy — but the impact on her will be life-long.
“Out of the blue, I got very severe chest pain and I became very sick, I was vomiting profusely. The chest pain was absolutely crushing,” she said.
“It’s much too risky for me to have another pregnancy. The consequences for me of having another heart attack (during pregnancy) could be … permanent disability to death.”
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Bouzaid was told the heart attack was a direct result of her pregnancy, as hormones that soften the birth canal also soften heart arteries, leading to a tear known as spontaneous coronary artery dissection, or SCAD.
Her recovery took months, and the anxiety about her health had a significant psychological impact.
“I was in hospital for a while and I had a four-month-old daughter, and it was COVID, so I couldn’t see her for a while,” she said.
“l couldn’t really be a mum to her in the same way because I couldn’t physically lift her and look after her.”
Ursula Bouzaid suffered a heart attack four months after giving birth. Credit: 7NEWS
Leading cause of maternal death
Bouzaid is hoping to inform other pregnant women about the rare condition so they can recognise when they need to seek medical attention.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare analysed the deaths of 194 Australian women, who died during pregnancy or within 42 days of giving birth, between 2011 and 2020.
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It found nearly half of maternal deaths, 47 per cent, happened after a baby is born.
Sixteen percent were caused by cardiovascular diseases, followed by blood cots, suicide and then sepsis.
Cardiologist Professor Jason Kovacic said pregnancy could put significant stress on the heart because of the increased blood flow and hormonal changes.
This could lead to heart-related medical issues such as SCAD, pre-eclampsia or peripartum cardiomyopathy, commonly known as maternal heart failure.
Cardiologist Professor Jason Kovacic said pregnant women are at higher risk of heart problems because of hormones and increased blood flow. Credit: 7NEWS
“Childbirth is a time when undiagnosed heart problems can manifest for the first time,” he said.
“It’s important that women and indeed all of our society is aware of this issue, so if they indeed get symptoms after childbirth, whether it’s chest pain, nausea, dizziness, all of those things, they seek help,” Kovacic said.
While genetics is believed to be one of the causes of SCAD, Kovacic said there was a need for much more research into women’s cardiovascular health to determine other causes and therapies.
Through the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, he and other researchers have helped determine which genes can increase a woman’s risk of SCAD.
He recommended pregnant and postpartum women be vigilant about their health and attend all their scheduled appointments.
If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondblue on 1300 224 636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.
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