Complicated pregnancies linked to increased heart disease risk, finds study

Pregnant Bump

Women who experience certain pregnancy-related complications may have an increased risk of dying from heart disease, claims a new study.

Researchers at the Public Health Institute in Berkeley, California, examined data from 14,062 pregnant women, with an average age of 26, collected between 1959 and 1967. The women were then followed up five decades later, by which time they had a mean age of 66. By 2011, 368 of these women were found to have already died from heart disease related causes.

Publishing in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation, researchers found that women who had escalated levels of sugar in their urine, or glycosuria, during pregnancy were around four times more likely to die from heart disease compared to those women who did not have increased urine sugar levels.

In addition, the researchers found that women who had lower levels of haemoglobin - a protein carried by red blood cells that helps to distribute oxygen throughout the body - during pregnancy were around twice as likely to develop heart disease in later life. Lowered haemoglobin levels can sometimes be caused by iron-deficiency anaemia, a relatively common problem among pregnant women as the body requires extra iron for the development of the baby. Pregnant women in the UK are offered routine blood tests in addition to blood pressure and urine checks at every antenatal appointment.

"Quarter of all deaths"

According to the British Heart Foundation, cardiovascular disease currently causes more than a quarter of all deaths in the UK, equivalent to around 155,000 deaths each year - claiming the lives of 425 people every day.

Study author Barbara Cohn, director of Child Health and Development Studies at the Public Health Institute at Berkeley, says: "The idea here is not necessarily that these events of pregnancy cause women to die of cardiovascular disease. The idea is that, just like a person's cholesterol level and blood pressure are considered risk factors, so should these pregnancy complications."

Chem Strip

Other complications linked to an increased risk were pre-term birth followed by post-natal haemorrhage, pre-existing high blood pressure resulting in premature delivery, pre-eclampsia, a potentially life-threatening condition signposted by a sudden increase in blood pressure and protein in the urine, which can also lead to early delivery. These women were found to be between four and seven times more likely to go on to die from cardiovascular disease.

The researchers believe that these possible new risk markers for cardiovascular disease in women, specifically glycosuria and haemoglobin decline, may help obstetricians to identify more women who may have this increased risk of developing heart disease. It is hoped that these women could then be offered preventative and potentially life-saving lifestyle recommendations and advice that could help them take steps to lower their risk before further problems develop.

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