Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Did you know that February is national heart health month?

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Did you know February is national heart health month? 
I recently had my first EKG and echocardiogram following a occurrence of high blood pressure two weeks following the birth of my 3rd child. I consider myself lucky that I received the prognosis that my hypertension was likely temporary and that there is no underlying heart condition.
For others with a more concerning prognosis, they may be diagnosed with peripartum or postpartum cardiomyopathy. It is a rare type of heart disease that occurs during pregnancy or immediately after delivery. The condition weakens the heart muscle and causes the heart to become enlarged. As a result, the heart can’t pump blood properly to the rest of the body.

According to the American Heart Association, this heart condition affects about 1,000 to 1,300 women in the United States each year. Women usually receive a diagnosis during the last month of their pregnancies or within five months of delivery. Black women are particularly at risk.
A 2017 Report From the American Heart Association stated that among Americans, an average of one person dies from cardiovascular disease (CVD) every 40 seconds. Coronary heart disease (CHD) accounts for the majority of CVD deaths, followed by stroke and heart failure.

Additionally, the National Heart Association adds that heart disease is the leading killer for all Americans, but in African Americans, heart disease develops earlier and deaths from heart disease are higher than in white Americans. In recent years, the life expectancy of African Americans was 3.4 years shorter than that of whites (75.5 vs. 78.9 years, respectively), largely attributable to having a higher rate of heart attacks, sudden cardiac arrest, heart failure and strokes than white Americans.
Since learning that my heart was healthy, I have learned that several family members and friends of mine who were relatively young, died of heart-related illnesses. This saddens me.

It's our social responsibility to educate ourselves and others about our heart health. We can start by having yearly physical exams, regular exercise, good nutrition and providing advocacy for adequate culturally-competent care by healthcare providers.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Relationship between Lifetime Stress and Prenatal Health Behaviors By Teresa Smith, B.A.

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The Relationship between Lifetime Stress and Prenatal Health Behaviors

Teresa Smith, B.A.


Did you know?

Did you know that different types of stress, including prenatal exposure to stress and stress experienced during childhood, increases the likelihood that women will engage in negative prenatal health behaviors in the future? Negative prenatal health behavior may include smoking cigarettes or eating an unhealthy diet. Negative prenatal health behaviors can lead to poor birth outcomes and negative infant and maternal health. Poor diet and drug use during pregnancy are associated with low infant birth weight and preterm birth. It is important that we better understand the relationship between stress and prenatal health behaviors to address these negative maternal and infant health outcomes.


What does stress have to do with it?

The ecobiodevelopmental framework suggests that chronic stress over the lifespan changes the brain’s architecture making it more difficult for individuals to cope with future stress in a healthy manner.  The ecobiodevelopmental framework highlights the neurological importance of examining health behaviors and stress through the life course perspective. However, to our knowledge, there is limited information about the relationship between prenatal health behaviors and the cumulative impact of stress across the lifespan, also known as lifetime stress. Studies that examine lifetime stress often use checklists as a way to collect information about the number of stressful experiences, which incorrectly assumes that all individuals perceive stress in the same way.


How do we learn more?

Due to the gaps in the literature, we examined the association between prenatal health behaviors and lifetime stress perceptions, above and beyond current stress.166 participants were interviewed at one of two urban hospitals after delivering their first infant. Participants completed a measure of prenatal health behaviors, current stress, and the Stress and Adversity Inventory, an innovative measure of lifetime stress, which inquires about stressful events as well as the perception of those events, also known as stress severity. It was found that the perceptions of stress women experience over their lifetime predicts negative prenatal health behaviors, even after controlling for current stress.


What do we do now?

If we want to mitigate the effects of stress on prenatal health behaviors, it is important to examine the stress women experience across their lifespan and their perception of that stress, not just their current stress. Further, it is critical to implement interventions aimed at decreasing lifetime stress in childhood and adolescence to ensure positive prenatal health behaviors as adults. Interventions likes these have the potential to decrease negative prenatal health behaviors; therefore, decreasing the possibility of poor birth outcomes related to these behaviors.


Acknowledgements: The author would like to acknowledge Jennifer Malat, PhD, Farrah Jacquez, PhD, Elaina Johns-Wolfe, MA, and George Slavich, PhD, who are co-authors on the research article discussed.