Hypertension in Pregnancy Increases Heart Risk

Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy such as gestational hypertension or preeclampsia can be risky for a mother and her child while the baby is still in the womb. But new findings suggest that risks for moms may continue well past the point of giving birth.

Gestational hypertension is defined by an increase in blood pressure during pregnancy. Preeclampsia is an even more severe condition in which there is a sudden rise in blood pressure that can affect the organs and be dangerous for both mother and baby. Both are generally diagnosed after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Using health data shared by more than 60,000 participants, researchers found that women who experienced these conditions during pregnancy had a 63% increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease later in life.

Compared to women with normal blood pressure in pregnancy, women with gestational hypertension were more likely to have a stroke about 30 years after their first pregnancy. Women with preeclampsia were more likely to have a coronary artery event, such as a heart attack, as early as 10 years after their first pregnancy.

“Women with a history of gestational hypertension or preeclampsia should be informed that they have an increased risk for cardiovascular disease,” said Jennifer J. Stuart, Sc.D., one of the study’s authors.

Most of this increased risk was associated with women who also had obesity, type 2 diabetes, or chronic hypertension after pregnancy. Chronic hypertension was the most significant contributor to future risk, and most women who had a hypertensive disorder during pregnancy developed a chronic condition in the years following pregnancy.

Lowering this risk for future cardiovascular disease depends on several complex factors. Still, researchers believe that screening and monitoring blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose levels, and body mass index could help women and their doctors create a personalized plan to delay or avoid future cardiovascular events.

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