Physician InformationPatient Information

Coronary Artery Disease


Management Strategies

Preconception counseling/Contraceptive methods

A successful pregnancy can be achieved in some women with CAD; however, preconception risk stratification is important. The burden of ischemia and the severity of associated risk factors (i.e. diabetes) will determine the safety/risk of pregnancy.

Women with suspected CAD
In women with an intermediate or high pre-test likelihood of CAD, diagnostic studies are required prior to conception. These may include exercise myocardial perfusion imaging, stress echocardiography, or cardiac catheterization as appropriate. Ideally, a comprehensive cardiovascular examination should be undertaken before embarking on pregnancy. When necessary, stress echocardiography can be used during pregnancy to evaluate women with intermediate pre-test probability for CAD. Fetal bradycardia and absence of body movement have been reported during moderate to heavy maternal exercise, thus a submaximal protocol is preferred. (7) Exercise myocardial perfusion imaging should be avoided because of the potential risk of radiation to the fetus.

In a woman presenting with an acute coronary syndrome during pregnancy a diagnosis is important. Non-atherosclerotic causes of the ACS are relatively more common. A strategy that includes early diagnostic coronary angiography may be the best strategy to pursue in the unstable patient. Cardiac catheterization may result in fetal exposure to radiation of as little as 0.02mSv, though longer procedures could yield a fetal exposure of up to 1mSv. The 8th to 15th week of gestation is the most radiation-sensitive period for the fetus. If cardiac catheterization is performed, appropriate shielding of the fetus from direct exposure to radiation is important, though shielding cannot prevent scatter radiation.

Women with CAD
Women of childbearing age who are diagnosed with coronary artery disease should be advised about the potential complications than can occur. Modifiable cardiovascular risk factors should be identified and treated.

Women with a history of prior myocardial infarction, prior revascularization with percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), or coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) should be counseled on their risk in the event of pregnancy. Counseling these women is based upon a thorough evaluation of their cardiac status, particularly their functional status, their left ventricular systolic function, any ongoing myocardial ischemia, and their underlying coronary anatomy. Impaired left ventricular systolic function is a major determinant of adverse maternal outcomes. Transthoracic echocardiography should be performed to determine left ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF). An LVEF> 40% and a good response to exercise testing likely portend a good outcome, although complications can still occur.

A discussion about contraceptive methods is appropriate in all women with CAD. The combined oral contraceptive pill (containing estrogen) is associated with an increased risk of thromboembolism and is contraindicated in women with CAD. Progesterone-only forms of contraception are not associated with thromboembolic risk and can be suitable alternatives. Other options are discussed in the section on contraception. (see Contraception)

Women with CAD are often treated with aspirin or beta blockers and both can be used during pregnancy when necessary. The safety profiles of other antiplatelet agents, such as clopidogrel, are not known. Statins, angiotensin receptor blockers, and angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors are not safe during pregnancy. Medication use should be reviewed if a woman is contemplating pregnancy or is pregnant. The MOTHERISK website is an excellent resource.

Ante-partum Care

Coordinated care with a heart disease specialist and a high-risk obstetrician should be implemented. The frequency of assessments during pregnancy should be determined on an individual basis.

Frequent monitoring for symptoms is important, with specific attention to complaints of angina. Management should focus on optimizing therapy, treating other conditions that may contribute to symptoms (i.e. anemia), and management of CAD risk factors (note: total cholesterol, LDL, and triglyceride levels can increase during pregnancy).

In women with reduced LVEF due to a previous MI, concurrent management of heart failure may be necessary. Particular attention should be focused on the recognition of ventricular arrhythmias.

In women who develop new/worsening angina or an acute coronary syndrome (ACS) during pregnancy, both maternal and fetal considerations should influence the therapeutic approach. In the setting of an ACS, close monitoring of the mother and fetus should take place in an intensive care unit. Criteria for the diagnosis of AMI are the same as the general population. In terms of biomarkers, troponins are preferred to CK for the diagnosis of AMI due to the physiological increase in CK levels during labor and delivery. (8)

The treatment of pregnant women with an ST-elevation MI (STEMI) and its potential complications should follow the usual standard of care, although both maternal and fetal considerations will affect therapy. Thrombolytic therapy is relatively contraindicated in pregnancy. Although teratogenicity has not been reported with thrombolytics, the reported risk of maternal hemorrhage is 8%. An invasive strategy for accurate diagnosis with a view to coronary revascularization with PCI in the event of atherosclerosis, management of dissection when found, and management of coronary thrombosis/embolism/spasm if found, is the preferred approach in women presenting with a STEMI.

Labour and delivery

Labour and delivery should be planned carefully with a multidisciplinary team well in advance. It is important to communicate the delivery plan to the woman and to other physicians involved in her care. The best delivery plan is not useful if information is not readily available when needed.

Generally, vaginal deliveries are recommended unless there are obstetric indications for a cesarean delivery. Good pain management for labour and delivery is very important in order to minimize maternal cardiac stress. To decrease maternal expulsive efforts during the second stage of labour, forceps or vacuum delivery is often utilized. To decrease potential harmful complications from difficult mid cavity-assisted delivery, uterine contractions are often utilized to facilitate the initial descent of the presenting part.

Because of the increased hemodynamic stress associated with labour, it has been recommended that induction of labour or scheduled cesarean section be delayed, if possible, for at least two to three weeks after an acute MI. However, there are no clinical trials that have prospectively evaluated the optimal timing of surgical procedures or labor and delivery after an acute (one to seven days) or recent (7 to 30 days) MI, especially in the current era of cardiac therapies and modern anesthesia.

The need for maternal monitoring at the time of labour and delivery is dictated by the women’s clinical status, the absence/presence of CAD symptoms, and the degree of ventricular dysfunction.

Post Partum Care

The immediate post partum period is associated with a large hemodynamic load on the heart because of enhanced venous return with relief of caval compression and additional blood into the systemic circulation from the contracting emptied uterus. Women with underlying CAD may be at higher risk for AMI during this period because of increased myocardial oxygen demand and the prothrombotic milieu.

The hemodynamic changes of pregnancy may take up to six months to normalize. Women should be seen early after pregnancy (usually within 6-8 weeks). The frequency of additional follow up visits should be dictated by the clinical status of the women.


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