Conclusions were made after collecting data from more than 60,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study II who were followed for almost 30 years.
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is very common. According to the CDC, in the United States alone, high blood pressure happens in 1 in every 12 to 17 pregnancies among women ages 20 to 44.
A new study warns that high blood pressure complications during pregnancy can significantly raise a woman's risk for heart disease later in life, according to TODAY.
Women who developed high blood pressure while pregnant had a 63% increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease later in life, researchers reported this month in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
For the study, they analyzed data from more than 60,000 U.S. women in the Nurses' Health Study II and found that nearly 10% of them developed high blood pressure during their first pregnancy. After about 30 years, when the women's average age was 61, about 1.8% of study participants had suffered a heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular event.
When does it affect women?
The study suggests that about 10 years after giving birth, women who had preeclampsia—high blood pressure and protein in the urine during pregnancy—were more likely to suffer from a coronary artery event, such as a heart attack, compared to women who had a normal blood pressure while pregnant.
Meanwhile, with women who had gestational hypertension—a spike in blood pressure during pregnancy, but without kidney problems—the risk appeared 30 years after they delivered babies. These patients were more likely to have a stroke.
What are the reasons for this condition?
Stuart said that the increased cardiovascular risk linked with these conditions later in life could be explained by “four simple things that we know how to measure and target,”: developing chronic high blood pressure after giving birth, high cholesterol, diabetes and gaining weight.
Chronic hypertension was the largest contributor of all, accounting for 81% of increased cardiovascular disease risks among women who had gestational hypertension and for 48% of increased risks among women who had preeclampsia, per the National Institutes of Health.
How does one get to know about these risks?
Doctors must ask women about their history of pregnancy complications such as gestational hypertension or preeclampsia.
"Women with a history of gestational hypertension or preeclampsia should be informed that they have an increased risk for cardiovascular disease," Stuart said. “While the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology recognize these conditions as cardiovascular risk factors, women and their providers have lacked clear direction on what to do in the intervening years between delivery of a hypertensive pregnancy and the onset of cardiovascular disease,” she added.
How can the risks be prevented, or at least delayed?
The researchers’ analysis showed that early screening and monitoring in four targeted areas – blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels, and body mass index – could provide even more personalized targets to help delay or possibly prevent future cardiovascular events among these women.
It’s quite important for women to adopt healthy habits, such as regular exercise and a heart-healthy diet, early in life, before they develop these risk factors, Stuart said.
“(We want) women to feel empowered to use this information to improve their health rather than be overwhelmed or daunted by an increased risk after what can be a really complicated pregnancy,” she noted.
“This study reinforces how important it is for women and their healthcare providers to address known cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as obesity or having high blood pressure, while thinking about starting a family and then during and after pregnancy,” said Victoria Pemberton, a researcher at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
Representative Cover Image Source: Getty Images | Gorica PoturakDisclaimer : This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.