Hypertensive Pregnant Women Have Higher Risk of Developing Heart Disease, Study Says

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by Diogo Pinto |

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Women who have hypertension or preeclampsia, a more severe condition that leads to damage in the internal organs, during pregnancy have a two- to three-fold higher risk of developing hypertension later in life. Also, 70 percent of them have higher rates of type 2 diabetes and 30 percent have higher cholesterol compared to women who had normal blood pressure, according to a recent study.

These findings support the need for cardiovascular screening throughout the lives of women who had pregnancies marked by high blood pressure.

The study, “Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy and maternal cardiovascular disease risk factor development: an observational cohort study,” was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Between 10 to 15 percent of pregnant women experience high blood pressure complications during pregnancy, as gestational hypertension or preeclampsia. Statistics also show these women are more prone to heart attacks and strokes later in life, even if the blood pressure drops to normal levels immediately after pregnancy.

What researchers are still trying to figure out is to what extent are they also more susceptible to develop risk factors associated with heart diseases, and when those risk factors begin to appear after pregnancy.

A research team at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, in Boston, Massachusetts, selected 58,671 women from the Nurses’ Health Study II without signs of heart disease or identifiable risk factors at time of enrollment, and who had given birth at least once to participate in the study. This is the second of three large prospective studies that began in 1976 and  are investigating risk factors for chronic disease affecting women.

The study participants were evaluated routinely by physicians to screen for chronic hypertension, hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol) and type 2 diabetes, from the moment they gave birth until 2013. Mean follow-up ranged from 25 to 32 years.

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Women with gestational hypertension (2.9 percent) or preeclampsia (6.3 percent) in their first pregnancy had 2.8 and 2.2 higher rates of chronic hypertension, respectively, compared to women with normal blood pressure levels.

Women with gestational hypertension or preeclampsia also had 1.7- and 1.8 greater chance of developing type 2 diabetes and 1.4- and 1.3-greater rates of hypercholesterolemia, respectively.

The team found that these women were more likely to develop chronic hypertension within five years after their first birth.

Researchers hope that these findings can alert women and their healthcare providers about their heart health after pregnancy. Women with these complications are encouraged to tell their doctors and adopt a healthy lifestyle.

“Women with HDP [hypertensive disorders of pregnancy] in their first pregnancy had increased rates of chronic hypertension, type 2 diabetes and hypercholesterolemia that persisted for several decades,” researchers wrote.

“These women may benefit from lifestyle intervention and early screening to reduce lifetime risk for CVD [cardiovascular diseases],” the study concluded.