Pregnancy complications could increase heart disease risk in later life

·2-min read

Certain health complications during pregnancy could increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease in later life.

A new scientific statement from the American Heart Association has highlighted six complications - gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, preterm delivery, pregnancy loss, placental abruption and small-for-gestational-age delivery - that could impact a woman's health in years to come.

Experts have called for heightened measures to prevent these risk factors and extra monitoring for women who do experience these issues during pregnancy.

"Adverse pregnancy outcomes are linked to women having hypertension, diabetes, abnormal cholesterol and cardiovascular disease events, including heart attack and stroke, long after their pregnancies," said Nisha I. Parikh, M.D., M.P.H., chair of the scientific statement writing committee and associate professor of medicine in the cardiovascular division at the University of California at San Francisco.

"Preventing or treating risk factors early can prevent cardiovascular disease, therefore, adverse pregnancy outcomes can be a powerful window into cardiovascular disease prevention if women and their health care professionals harness the knowledge and use it for health improvement."

Around 10 to 15 per cent of pregnant women experience adverse pregnancy outcomes, six of which are closely linked to cardiovascular disease or CVD.

High blood pressure during pregnancy, known as gestational hypertension, increases the risk of CVD by 67 per cent and heightens the risk of stroke by 83 per cent. Stillbirth is linked to a doubled risk of the mother later developing CVD, while gestational diabetes increases the risk of CVD by 68 per cent, and having a preterm delivery (childbirth before 37 weeks) has been found to double the risk of developing heart disease.

"The evidence linking adverse pregnancy outcomes to later cardiovascular disease is consistent over many years and confirmed in nearly every study we examined. This statement should inform future prevention guidelines in terms of the important factors to consider for determining women's risk for heart diseases and stroke," Parikh said.

Experts believe a healthy diet will have a positive impact on CVD and recommend following a balanced diet three years before pregnancy to reduce pregnancy complications.

"Adopting a heart healthy diet, healthy sleep patterns and increasing physical activity among women experiencing adverse pregnancy outcomes, should start during pregnancy and continue in post-partum and through the rest of the patient's lifespan. These are important lifestyle interventions to decrease CVD risk," Parikh added.

The statement was published in the journal Circulation.