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Pregnancy complications boost mid-life heart disease risk

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Diabetes and other pregnancy complications linked to heart disease risk.

New research shows women who develop pregnancy complications of diabetes, high blood pressure, preterm birth or who have small or large babies could be at higher risk for heart disease in mid-life.

The study included 1002 women who had at least one pregnancy complication who were enrolled in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children in the early 1990s; 175 women had two complications during their pregnancy and 26 had three.

The type of complications for the study included gestational diabetes and preeclampsia that leads to high blood pressure, preterm delivery and size of the babies including the highest and lowest 10% birth weight. In total, 3416 women were followed.

Abigail Fraser, M.P.H., Ph.D., School of Social and Community Medicine at the University of Bristol, United Kingdom stated in a press release, "We wanted to learn about possible explanations as to why women with pregnancy complications tend to have more heart disease later in life.”

The researchers then calculated the risk of a woman’s chances of developing heart disease over the next 10 years using the 10-year CVD Framingham risk score that takes into account age, smoking, HDL cholesterol levels, systolic blood pressure and diabetes.

Each complication during pregnancy was associated with different risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD) in women whose average age at follow up was 48.

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Women who develop gestational diabetes were found to be at 26% higher risk for CVD in mid-life. Preeclampsia was associated with a 31% higher chance of future heart disease.

Giving birth to a small baby for gestational age was also found to raise the chances of heart disease for women later on in life as did giving birth to a large baby.

Women who gave birth to larger babies tended to have high blood pressure in higher glucose levels. Preterm birth was also linked to higher blood pressure.

"A woman who experiences complications during pregnancy should be proactive and ask her doctor about future CVD risk and steps she should take to modify her risk”, Fraser said in the media release.

She suggests medical professionals should have information about complications that a woman experiences during pregnancy so they can recommend lifestyle changes that could reduce risk factors while a woman a young.

The study, published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, identifies a previously unknown risk factor for women’s heart disease. Fraser says more studies are needed with longer follow-up time to see how pregnancy complications affect a woman’s risk for mid-life cardiovascular disease.

Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association
"Associations of Pregnancy Complications with Calculated CVD Risk and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Middle Age: The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children"
Abigail Fraser et al.
doi: 10.1161/​
February 27, 2012

Image credit: Wikimedia commons