Pregnancy Complications and Later Heart Disease
By Dennis Thompson
The risk is particularly high for women who’ve had more than one health problem during pregnancy, said senior study author Barbara Cohn, director of child health and development studies at the Public Health Institute in Berkeley, Calif.
For example, the risk of fatal heart disease prior to age 60 doubled or even tripled in women who developed pre-eclampsia, a sudden increase in blood pressure late in pregnancy. But a woman’s risk escalated six times if she developed pre-eclampsia on top of high blood pressure she already had earlier in her pregnancy, the researchers found.
However, the new study could only show associations between pregnancy complications and later heart problems; it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
The findings were published online Sept. 21 in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association.
Heart disease is the number-one killer of American women, according to the American Heart Association.
In this study, researchers analyzed decades of data gathered from about 15,000 women who became pregnant in the Oakland, Calif., metropolitan area between 1959 and 1967. Overall, 64 percent of the mothers had no complications, 31 percent experienced a single complication, and 5 percent had two or more complications.
The most common complication was gestational high blood pressure, followed by preterm delivery, low-birth-weight delivery, and hemoglobin decline (a problem with red blood cells).
As of 2011, 368 women in the study had died of heart disease. The researchers compared the women’s heart health history to the complications they experienced during pregnancy, to see whether any complications provide a warning of future heart problems.
Additional dangerous combinations found in the study included:
- A seven times higher risk for mothers with pre-existing high blood pressure and a preterm delivery.
- A five times greater risk for women with pre-existing high blood pressure and delivery of a low-birth-weight baby.
- A five times higher risk for mothers with high blood pressure that developed as a result of pregnancy, and a preterm delivery.