Your Heart and Your Fertility: The Connection



When Ayo started her fertility journey, a tiny part of her hoped and actively prayed that it was going to be a walk in the park, or at most tolerable.

Rather, what ensued would have been better imagined. It was as if the vicious cycle wouldn’t end and that her dream of having a baby would forever remain a dream.

In 2006, Ayo, for the first time in her life, walked into the hospital to see a Gynaecologist, after a year of trying for a baby without success.  She was just 26 years old.

After her chat with the doctor, naturally, she was asked to undergo some tests that very day, and subsequent ones on particular days in her cycle. One thing she didn’t tell her doctor was the fact that she had a heart condition and had been on medication for it since she was a teenager.

When her test results came back, it showed that she was in near perfect condition, except that both her tubes were blocked and she had fibroid seedlings in locations that might have made conception hard.

With these findings, Ayo’s doctor suggested a course of treatment but as he reeled off his plans, Ayo made known her heart condition and it stopped her doctor right in his tracks.

“No, we can’t start treatment until you see another specialist. There is no way that’s happening, and why didn’t you say something before? You really should have.” He admonished as he flipped through his diary to get the contact details of a specialist-colleague of his.

Ayo was open to trying another cardiologist, apart from the one she’s had since she was a teenager, so she didn’t stop her doctor from making the call.

Before she left her doctor’s office that day, two thing had changed; she wasn’t going ahead with her fertility treatment just yet, and she now had an appointment with a heart specialist.


This scenario became the norm for the next two years for Ayo, who juggled her visits to the doctors with admirable poise often times. Eventually, Heaven smiled on Ayo, and she conceived via her second IVF cycle. If the doctors could have kept her in the hospital for the nine months, they would have, because hers was a high risk pregnancy.  Her heart could act up and she wouldn’t be able to  take  standard dose of her heart medication, due to her condition.

A surprising turn of event was that pregnancy was a lot easier on her body and heart than the doctors had thought.  Ayo  was still closely monitored, but she had not one single episode, not even shortness of breath, whilst she was pregnant.

Every single time she visited either of her doctors, the first question they would  ask was, “Do you have any complaints?” They would check her blood pressure regularly, and throughout her second trimester, she had to check and send the numbers to the clinic every day.

Just a few days to Valentine’s Day of 2008, Ayo welcomed her beloved baby girl. Ayo and her husband were over the moon. The doctors, (both Gynae and Cardiologist) who had attended the birth, were ecstatic. That child brought so much joy, and she was named after her mother, Ayotomiwa, meaning, Joy comes to me.

Ayotomiwa recently turned 10, and her mother, Ayo, has spent a lot of time reminiscing about the years leading up to her conception and later birth.

Her heart acted up quite a few times after she gave birth, but every single time she had to be resuscitated, she remembered that she had someone to love and live for, so she fought with all of her mind and might. Ayo still has her heart condition, she still uses her medication, she hasn’t been able to have another child since then, not for lack of trying…but she won’t give up.

As Ayo shared her story, I remembered one news item, from last year, which claimed that women who have had fertility treatment are a lot more likely to develop a heart condition…especially if the cycle failed.

According to the results of the study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, researchers found that women who did not become pregnant after undergoing gonadotropin-based fertility therapy – treatment often used in in the lead up to in vitro fertilization (IVF) and other assisted reproductive technologies, were at greater risk of heart failure and stroke than those whose fertility therapy was successful.

The research team led by Dr. Jacob Udell of the Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES), the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, and Women’s College Hospital in Canada, notes that few studies have assessed the long-term impact of fertility therapy on heart health, especially among women whose fertility treatments have been unsuccessful.

“Failure of fertility therapy may be an early indicator of future cardiovascular risk by acting as a unique cardiometabolic stress test,” say the authors. “In addition, fertility therapy may lead to adverse cardiovascular events by inducing background thrombosis, activating the renin-angiotensin system or inducing vascular injury from ovarian hyperstimulation.”

This is contrary to a 2013 findings published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, which shows that fertility medications may somehow protect women’s hearts rather than harm them.

This study identified nearly 1.2 million women who gave birth in Ontario, Canada between 1993 and 2010, about 7,000 of which gave birth following fertility therapy. After following women for more than nine years, researchers found that women using fertility therapy were at increased risk for short-term complications like maternal metabolic syndrome and gestational diabetes.

However, after nine years and taking into account differences in age, income and other factors, women using fertility therapy had nearly half the cardiovascular risk than women who conceived naturally. 

Either way you look at the studies, it is scary but experts have tried to calm nerves as it has been revealed that the overall risk of developing heart disease for all of the women—whether they had a baby or not is fairly low.

For every 1,000 women who didn’t have a baby, there were about 10 heart disease-related incidences. By comparison, women who did have a baby had six cardiovascular events for every 1,000 births.

Happily, the study is correlational, meaning researchers found that there’s a link, not that undergoing fertility treatments necessarily causes heart issues.

While more research is going on, one can at least heave a sigh of relief.

They say go for gold, I say go for babies.



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