DURHAM N.C. (WNCN) – About 60 percent of U.S. women who gave birth in 2019 had poor heart health prior to getting pregnant, with excess weight, hypertension and diabetes presenting the greatest concerns.

The study was published in the Circulation Go Red for Women Journal Report

“So, as we know, across the U.S., cardiovascular disease has been a huge issue for morbidity and mortality, and this doesn’t change for women either,” said Dr. Toi Spates with Duke University School of Medicine. “In fact, about 50 percent of women don’t know they’re at increased risk for cardiovascular disease and prevention is key.”

Researchers said poor maternal heart health can lead to problems for their children, including heart issues and premature birth.

Heart issues also cause more than one in four pregnancy-related deaths, according to the American Heart Association.

“If you have poor cardiovascular outcomes before pregnancy, it’s hard to sort of maintain a good and happy healthy scenario for you and the baby,” Spates said. “So do your best to control all your risk factors ahead of time so that you and the baby do a great job afterwards.”

So, how do you control your risk factors before pregnancy? Spates recommended healthy lifestyle changes.

“Be mindful of exercising. Be mindful of what your diet looks like. Try not to have blood pressure issues, and if you do, work with your doctor to get it controlled,” she said.

Spates also said to get your cholesterol checked and stop smoking.