Common Heart Issues in Young Women

doctor with female patientA couple of heart conditions are especially common in young women. They don't usually cause problems, but you'll want to discuss any persistent symptoms with your health care practitioner at Kaiser Permanente medical offices to rule out any serious conditions.

Palpitations. Palpitations are a feeling that your heart is skipping beats, fluttering, or beating too hard or too fast. In young women, palpitations may be a symptom of too much caffeine, a hyperactive thyroid, anemia, anxiety, or stress.

Often symptoms go away on their own. But in rare cases, palpitations can be a sign of a more serious heart condition. If you have palpitations frequently or persistently, talk to your doctor. If palpitations are accompanied by shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain, or fainting, get medical attention right away.

Mitral valve prolapse. The name sounds scary, but basically mitral valve prolapse means that the valve between the heart's upper chamber and lower chamber doesn't close properly. It's not usually a serious condition and often doesn't cause any symptoms. It might not even be noticed until your doctor hears a clicking sound, or murmur, while listening to your heart.

While mitral valve prolapse usually doesn't need any treatment or even require any lifestyle changes, being aware that you have a heart valve condition is important throughout your reproductive years and beyond. Because of that, your doctor may recommend an ultrasound or echocardiogram to diagnose the condition.

Heart Health and Pregnancy

Women who have had a high-risk pregnancy in the past are at increased risk of heart disease. Those who have had preeclampsia (excess protein in the urine and high blood pressure), a premature or small baby, or gestational diabetes (diabetes that comes on during pregnancy and usually goes away once the baby is born) may be at increased risk for chronic conditions that can affect heart health later in life.

If you're planning to get pregnant and have a heart condition, or have had heart surgery, talk with your doctor about how to prepare for a safe pregnancy and delivery. Here are some possible issues to discuss:

  • If you're using a hormonal birth control method, is it safe to use it right up to the point of conception? If not, how long do you need to be off of it before getting pregnant?
  • If you've had a heart valve replacement, what special considerations will you have if you get pregnant?
  • If you're on a medication for treatment of heart rhythm issues or high blood pressure, is it safe to continue taking the medication during pregnancy?
  • If you or someone in your family has a history of abnormal heart shape or congenital anomalies of the heart, will your baby be at risk for the same condition? 
  • Is it necessary for you to take blood thinner medications for your heart during pregnancy and postpartum? If so, are they safe for you and your baby?

Skin Changes Can Signal Heart Disease

Some skin conditions in women are actually a symptom of poor blood vessel health and poor circulation, especially if they're associated with other chronic conditions like hypertension (high blood pressure) or diabetes. If you notice skin changes on your legs, hands, arms, breasts, or ears, this may indicate a condition called peripheral vascular disease or heart health issues. Talk to your doctor about these symptoms.