03/13/2013 03:46 pm ET Updated Mar 13, 2013

OB-GYN Exam Should Include Screening For Heart Disease, Study Suggests

Your OB-GYN has you covered when it comes to screening for certain cancers, sexual health and optimizing your chances of bearing a child. But since he or she is likely to be the only doctor you'll see all year -- according to research presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 62nd Annual Scientific Session in San Francisco on Monday -- there are a few other preventive measure you'll want to address while you're in the office.

"When I would ask my patients, 'When was your last appointment with your primary care provider?' many women, especially reproductive-age women, would say, 'You are my primary care provider,'" said Mary Rosser, M.D., who works in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Women’s Health at Montefiore Medical Center and is assistant professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University.

In a survey of nearly 500 black and Hispanic women at five different OB-GYN clinics in the Bronx, N.Y., where the medical college is located, Rosser found that among those aged 18 to 40, 56 percent reported only visiting their OB-GYN on an annual basis, while 68 percent of women over 41 chose to see an internist.

But recent exam guidelines that limit the frequency of some women's OB-GYN visits, paired with the American Heart Association guidelines pointing to cardiovascular diseases and illnesses likely to occur during a woman's reproductive years, mean doctors, patients and policymakers all need to be more proactive about addressing the link between pregnancy and heart disease, Rosser says.

"As an obstetrician and a gynecologist, I can tell you that we do see these [heart diseases] in pregnancy, such as preeclampsia, gestational hypertension and gestational diabetes. If a woman encounters this in one pregnancy, it increases her lifetime risk of heart disease by as much a fourfold," Rosser said, reiterating recent findings that high blood pressure during pregnancy may signal later risk of heart disease.

"In a fast-paced office setting ... we get into what our own niche is, we have our blinders on and we're all in silos. What we really need to be looking at is the whole patient -- a holistic approach," Rosser explained.

"I know a lot of my colleagues wouldn't be comfortable with treatment of hypertension or hypercholesterolemia -- there are those that are -- but it's important to make sure that they understand that it's a risk factor and they can go ahead and provide a referral," she added.

Here's a look at how to get the conversation going with your OB-GYN about three other predictors of heart disease:

3 Conditions To Ask Your Ob/Gyn About