Cardiovascular Risk Factors Pre-pregnancy [1]

  • Increased age of mother (the age that women are getting pregnant has been increasing in recent years)
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes (type I, II and gestational)
  • Hyperlipidemia
  • Thrombophilia
  • Obesity
  • Hypertension


If a woman has no pre-existing heart conditions, and is looking to become pregnant or is already pregnant, there are some diet and lifestyle changes that can be done to limit the risk of developing such conditions.

  • Diets to consider [2]
    • Mediterranean diet: this diet is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to reduce the risk of heart disease. The focus is on plant-based foods, whole grains, fatty fish, olive oil, and nuts.
    • High fiber: Fiber is beneficial for many reasons, but an important one is its ability to reduce LDL cholesterol (“bad cholesterol”) levels in the blood. High LDL levels have been associated with an increased risk of CVD, so reducing those levels is a step in the right direction for heart health.
    • Low saturated fat: For similar reasons as a diet high in fiber, a diet low in saturated fat is a good way to reduce LDL levels in the blood and reduce CVD risk.
    • Low sodium/ Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH): this diet is especially for people who have hypertension. It can help improve high blood pressure and reduce the risk of developing other heart conditions that can arise from high blood pressure. The focus is on limiting sodium consumption, eating low-fat dairy products, and consuming more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. This diet can also help with weight gain and swelling that normally occurs during pregnancy.
  • Quit smoking [3]

Smoking is of course not recommended during pregnancy for reasons besides CVD prevention, but smoking does increase a woman’s risk of developing CVD by a significant amount. 2-4 times to be exact. This risk is also greater for women, as women who smoke have a 25% greater chance of developing heart disease than men who smoke. Smoking increases blood pressure and heart rate, increases the ability of blood clots to form, and decreases HDL cholesterol (“good cholesterol”) levels, all of which are risk factors for CVD. 

  • Exercise [2]

Exercise is extremely beneficial for reducing CVD risk. It reduces LDL cholesterol, raises HDL cholesterol, and reduces blood pressure. Exercising can also relieve many uncomfortable symptoms during pregnancy such as fatigue, swelling, and constipation. Improving insulin sensitivity is another benefit, leading to reduced risk of developing gestational diabetes [4].

  • Limit caffeine intake [5]

Moderate caffeine consumption (1-2 cups coffee per day) has no evidence of being harmful during pregnancy; however, excessive caffeine can increase heart rate, blood pressure, and increase the risk of having irregular heart rates. Since more research needs to be done on the safety of caffeine consumption during pregnancy, women should limit it to 200 mg/day (about 12 oz of coffee). Other items that contain caffeine are tea, chocolate and soda.


  1. Lower heart disease risk: What are the risk factors for heart disease? NIH Web site. Updated February, 2017. Accessed July, 2017.
  2. How to stay heart healthy during pregnancy. AHA Web site. Accessed July, 2017.
  3. Smoking and heart disease. AHA Web site. Accessed July, 2017.
  4. Tobias DK, Zhang C, Van Dam RM, Bowers K, Hu FB
  5. Caffeine intake during pregnancy. American Pregnancy Association Web site. Updated September 2, 2016. Accessed July, 2017.


By: Stephanie Kramer