Heart disease is the leading cause of death for new moms, and with cardiovascular disease during pregnancy on the rise, a new initiative by the American Heart Association, in conjunction with St. David’s HealthCare, is providing Central Texas organizations with resources to implement screening, education and referrals for pregnant and peripartum women.

Kelsey Williams, community impact director of the American Heart Association, and Dr. Kimberly DeStefano, medical director of Maternal Fetal Medicine at St. David’s Women’s Center of Texas joined Rosie to talk about this important cause.

Kelsey, tell me about this new initiative, its purpose and why it’s important?

This initiative is designed to address hypertension or high blood pressure during pregnancy. This is important for the health of moms and babies. American Heart Association is partnering with organizations in Central Texas that serve pregnant women to improve their maternal outcomes.

How does the referral program work?

First, women are screened for blood pressure. Those with high blood pressure are given educational materials and are given a maternal health bag to help them manage and lower their blood pressure.

Conditions like preeclampsia can also become fatal for mothers and their babies. How common is preeclampsia, and what are some signs and symptoms?

It is a disease of the placenta, making it difficult for the placenta to create a proper system of blood flow. When it struggles to do this, the placenta releases factors that could be damaging for the mom and baby’s health.

What should an expectant mother do to protect herself from heart disease and complications during and after pregnancy?

One of the most important things for expectant mothers to do is to go to all of their prenatal visits and make sure their blood pressure is being checked. If you start to have severe headaches or pain, you should get it evaluated by a doctor immediately. By taking a baby aspirin at bedtime, they can also help reduce the risk of preeclampsia. If you feel pain the the face, nausea, or heartburn, get checked by a doctor as it could be something more severe.

To learn more about the Screen, Educate & Refer program, you can visit our website for more details at KXAN.com.

This segment is paid for by American Heart Association and is intended as an advertisement. Opinions expressed by the guest(s) on this program are solely those of the guest(s) and are not endorsed by this television station.