Lyell McEwin SA first clinic to support new mums heart health

Research findings that women who have pregnancy complications are at a heightened risk of early heart disease and heart attacks have prompted the Lyell McEwin Hospital to open a clinic to support new mums’ heart health.

Associate Professor Margaret Arstall, Director of Cardiology at the Lyell McEwin Hospital, has set up South Australia’s first clinic monitoring the heart health of women who had severe cases of preeclampsia (high blood pressure) or gestational diabetes during pregnancy or had a small gestational age baby or a baby born before 34 weeks gestation.

“Pregnancy is stress test for cardiovascular health that can suggest underlying problems,” Associate Prof Arstall said. “Failure of the stress test – development of specific pregnancy-related issues – may mean a woman is at risk of developing heart disease.”

Eligible women are seen by a nurse practitioner who will do tests such as blood pressure, weight, waist circumference and blood tests.

“While these physiological tests are incredibly important, a vital part of the clinic visit is to educate women about lifestyle changes that may reduce their risk of heart disease,” Associate Prof Arstall said. “The goals of the clinic are to educate women, reduce their risk of heart disease and make them healthier. Most women in Australia have risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as inactivity, smoking or poor diet. In fact, 90 per cent of Australian women have one lifestyle factor and half of all women have two.”

The clinic sees eight new patients per week and women are called back a year later for their first annual follow up appointment. Women are recruited through the Lyell McEwin Hospital following the birth of their baby and attend their first clinic when their baby is six months old. 

As research into women’s heart disease risk post birth is in its infancy, the clinic has a heavy research focus. Women are asked if they would like to be part of a register so their health can be tracked long term. It is hoped the research will result in a reduced risk of early heart disease and heart attacks in the target group.

Among Australian women, heart disease causes three times more deaths than breast cancer – around 9000 deaths each year. It is the top cause of death of women in Australia.

The Lyell McEwin service is known as the COFFEE clinic (Cardiovascular Assessment After Obstetric Complications: Follow-up for Education and Evaluation).