Pediatric cardiologists can and should work alongside other specialties to address the epidemic of maternal mortality that disproportionately affects Black women in the United States, says Annette Ansong, M.D., medical director of outpatient cardiology at Children’s National Hospital.
As co-chair of the Women and Children Committee of the Association of Black Cardiologists Inc., (ABC) Ansong says that cardiologists, especially pediatric cardiologists, have a role to play because “before they are Black women, they are Black girls.”
She talked about the impact of these health disparities and how cardiologists can play a role in addressing them at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions in November 2022.
Why it matters
Dr. Ansong says that Black women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications. Most of the risk factors for these complications are cardiac in origin and preventable. Furthermore, many of these cardiovascular risk factors, such as obesity, start in youth and some even before birth. For example, children of pre-eclamptic moms have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease in the future, too.
How cardiologists can help
Pediatric cardiologists can be more proactive at helping Black girls grow up into strong, healthy Black women by making sure they are heart-healthy from a young age. That includes advocating for exercise, eating well and exploring innovative ways to encourage those habits.
Dr. Ansong says she makes a point to closely follow children based on the heart health history of their mothers—for example, “if mom had pre-eclampsia, I need to be keeping a closer eye on that child’s blood pressure” —to allow for early intervention and potentially prevent some devastating negative outcomes later in life.
Pediatricians and other specialists can also work with maternal-fetal medicine and other specialties to advocate for better tools to monitor women with pre-existing heart-related risk factors. This might include supporting efforts to enhance technology that makes self-monitoring easier, so women can keep closer eyes on their own blood pressure and share it with doctors in between appointments.
Most important, clinicians of all stripes should try to connect with patients to understand who they are, where they come from and how their stories impact their risk factors for health conditions.
The Women and Children’s Committee of the ABC launched the “We Are the Faces of Black Maternal Health” campaign in February 2022. The first-of-its-kind effort featured the stories of ABC members who had direct or indirect experiences with the impacts of maternal health on themselves, their children or someone they knew.
The ABC “We Are the Faces of Black Maternal Health” re-launches this February to continue raising awareness but will also emphasize the need for investments in research about the causes of these disparities and possible prevention strategies to protect Black women.