Your OB-GYN has you covered when it comes to screening for certain cancers, sexual health and optimizing your chances of bearing a child. But since he or she is likely to be the only doctor you’ll see all year — according to research presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 62nd Annual Scientific Session in San Francisco on Monday — there are a few other preventive measure you’ll want to address while you’re in the office.
“When I would ask my patients, ‘When was your last appointment with your primary care provider?’ many women, especially reproductive-age women, would say, ‘You are my primary care provider,'” said Mary Rosser, M.D., who works in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Women’s Health at Montefiore Medical Center and is assistant professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University.
In a survey of nearly 500 black and Hispanic women at five different OB-GYN clinics in the Bronx, N.Y., where the medical college is located, Rosser found that among those aged 18 to 40, 56 percent reported only visiting their OB-GYN on an annual basis, while 68 percent of women over 41 chose to see an internist.
But recent exam guidelines that limit the frequency of some women’s OB-GYN visits, paired with the American Heart Association guidelines pointing to cardiovascular diseases and illnesses likely to occur during a woman’s reproductive years, mean doctors, patients and policymakers all need to be more proactive about addressing the link between pregnancy and heart disease, Rosser says.
“As an obstetrician and a gynecologist, I can tell you that we do see these [heart diseases] in pregnancy, such as preeclampsia, gestational hypertension and gestational diabetes. If a woman encounters this in one pregnancy, it increases her lifetime risk of heart disease by as much a fourfold,” Rosser said, reiterating recent findings that high blood pressure during pregnancy may signal later risk of heart disease.
“In a fast-paced office setting … we get into what our own niche is, we have our blinders on and we’re all in silos. What we really need to be looking at is the whole patient — a holistic approach,” Rosser explained.
“I know a lot of my colleagues wouldn’t be comfortable with treatment of hypertension or hypercholesterolemia — there are those that are — but it’s important to make sure that they understand that it’s a risk factor and they can go ahead and provide a referral,” she added.
Here’s a look at how to get the conversation going with your OB-GYN about three other predictors of heart disease: