Having children raises a woman’s risk of heart disease, research suggests.
A study of more than three million women found those who have children are 14 per cent more likely to have a heart attack or stroke in later life.
For some, pregnancy leads to dangerous weight gain, while many overindulge while expecting, which can leave a permanent mark on a woman’s heart health.
Having children raises a woman’s risk of heart disease, research suggests (stock)
The study was carried out by researchers at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China. It was published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
Study author Dr Dongming Wang, who specialises in public health, said: ‘Women should know that having children may raise their chance of future heart disease or stroke and more pregnancies could be increasingly risky.
‘Doctors have a role to play here.’
As well as weight gain, pregnancy also causes a woman’s hormone levels to fluctuate, which has been associated with insulin resistance and therefore type 2 diabetes. Inflammation may also play a role in the heightened risk.
‘The good news is there is a lot women can do to prevent cardiovascular disease,’ Dr Wang said. ‘Pregnancy is a good time to get rid of bad lifestyle habits.
‘So quit smoking, exercise regularly, eat healthy food and keep weight gain under control.
‘Keep these habits after pregnancy, get more exercise to reduce abdominal fat and watch the fat content in your diet to keep blood lipids at a healthy level.’
Around seven million people in the UK have heart disease, according to the British Heart Foundation (BHF). And the condition affects as many as 92.1million in the US, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection shows.
TIPS FOR A HEALTHY PREGNANCY
Pregnancy health charity Tommy’s gives a list of actions which would have a positive impact on the health of a pregnancy and the future child if done before the mother stops contraception.
Take folic acid
Taking 400mcg of folic acid daily from two months before stopping contraception can help protect babies from developing neural tube defects such as spina bifida.
Smoking during pregnancy causes 2,200 premature births, 5,000 miscarriages and 300 perinatal deaths per year in the UK.
Be a healthy weight
Being overweight before and during pregnancy increases the risk of potentially dangerous conditions such as pre-eclampsia and diabetes.
Eat healthy and be active
A healthy mother is more likely to give birth to a healthy baby, and both will help maintain a safe body weight.
Speak to your GP if you are taking medication
Some medications may affect pregnancy, and it is best to check with a GP as soon as possible
It is defined as any disease that affects the heart or circulatory system, including angina, a heart attack, high blood pressure and stroke.
Heart disease is even responsible for around one in four deaths in both the UK and US.
In the first review of its kind, the researchers analysed ten studies from around the world that investigated a link between childbirth and heart disease. Past trials have only looked at childbirth and cardiovascular mortality.
The review was made up of 3,089,929 women, of which 150,512 developed heart disease over follow-up periods that ranged from six to 52 years.
Results showed that every time a woman gives birth, her risk of developing heart disease rises by four per cent, regardless of whether she is overweight, smokes, or has high blood pressure or diabetes.
Every birth also increases her risk of coronary heart disease – when the heart’s blood supply is blocked by a build-up of plaque in the arteries – and stroke by five and three per cent, respectively.
The researchers admit, however, some of the studies they analysed did not adjust for lifestyle factors such as smoking, obesity and inactivity, which are leading causes of heart disease.
And only two studies adjusted for race. People of South Asian or African Caribbean backgrounds have been found to be more at risk of heart disease.
Speaking of the research, Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the BHF, said: ‘This study confirms women who have children have a slightly increased risk of future heart and circulatory diseases, but sheds no light on the possible reasons.
‘It reinforces the message that women should not neglect the importance of a healthy lifestyle to keep their heart in good nick, even though this can become harder with more children to look after.’
Pregnancy may even boost a woman’s health with past studies linking it to a reduced risk of breast, ovarian and endometrial cancers.