Women who suffer pregnancy complications are more likely to develop heart disease up to five decades after giving birth, a major study suggests.
Researchers looked at more than two million Swedish women who gave birth between 1973 and 2015.
They analyzed medical records for five pregnancy complications: hypertensive disorders, pre-eclampsia, premature birth, low birth weight, and gestational diabetes.
Results showed that having one of the conditions raised the risk of future heart disease by up to two-fold.
Relative rates of ischemic heart disease jumped two-fold in women with hypertension, 1.5-fold with pre-eclampsia, and 1.3-fold with gestational diabetes
Overall, scientists found that nearly 84,000 women, roughly four percent of the total sample, were diagnosed with the condition at an average age of 58.
Heart problems are common during pregnancy. During this time, a woman’s blood volume typically increases from 30 percent to 50 percent to nourish the growing fetus. But as blood volume increases, so does the amount of work the heart is forced to do.
Adverse pregnancy outcomes such as premature birth and gestational diabetes are lifelong risk factors for ischemic heart disease, a condition caused by plaque buildup on the walls of the coronary arteries that impedes blood flow to the heart.
Researchers from Sweden and New York zeroed in on five separate pregnancy complications that could affect a woman’s heart disease risk, whereas most previous studies had only considered one of them at a time.
Over 30 percent of women in the study – about 678,000 – experienced at least one negative pregnancy outcome, while 182,000 women experienced at least two.
The study said: ‘The findings suggest that all five major adverse pregnancy outcomes are independently associated with increased risks of ischemic heart disease that may persist for up to 46 years after delivery.’
The figure shows relative risk for ischemic heart disease by the amount of time since delivery for specific adverse pregnancy outcomes. While risk decreased with time, it remained high up to 46 years post-birth
They followed the study subjects through December 2018 to track diagnoses of ischemic heart disease years later. In the decade after giving birth, the relative rates of ischemic heart disease jumped two-fold in women with hypertension and nearly as much in those who gave birth prematurely.
Women with pre-eclampsia had a 1.5-fold increased risk of developing the heart condition.
Those with gestational diabetes and those who delivered an infant too small for their gestational age had a 1.3-fold increased risk and 1.1-fold increased risk, respectively.
The risk of a heart disease diagnosis increased with each additional complication.
Pregnant women with two negative outcomes had a 1.8-fold higher risk while those with three or more had a 2.3-fold higher risk.
The scientists took additional lifestyle habits and other factors into account, including the mother’s age, number of children, education level, income, body mass index, smoking, and history of high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol.
The team’s findings were published Wednesday in the journal BMJ.
With a maternal mortality rate of nearly 24 deaths per 100,000 live births, America is more on par with Azerbaijan and Ukraine than peer nations such as the UK and Japan.
Each year, about 60,000 pregnant women deal with some negative health effects, also known as maternal morbidity. Black mothers are more than three times as likely than white mothers to deal with such effects.
The latest findings concerning pregnancy complications come days after the release of a Danish study that reported that overall, women with pre-eclampsia were four times more likely to have a heart attack and three times more likely to have a stroke within 10 years of delivery than those without pre-eclampsia.
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