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Hypertension during pregnancy can increase later risk of heart disease

24 Sep 2019
"What occurs in pregnancy has lifelong implications for a mother’s health"

Research has found that women with high blood pressure in pregnancy, including conditions such as preeclampsia, have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disorders later in life, including stroke and heart failure.

Dr Fergus McCarthy from the INFANT Research Centre at University College Cork, while working at King’s College London, led a team of researchers that studied electronic UK health records from 1997 to 2016 to recreate a UK population-based cohort of 1.3 million women covering nearly 1.9 million completed pregnancies. They used statistical analysis to determine the associations between hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, such as preeclampsia with 12 cardiovascular disorders.

They found that during the 20-year study period, 18,624 cardiovascular events occurred (such as heart attacks, stroke, heart failure), of which 65% occurred in women under 40 years of age.

High blood pressure in pregnancy affects up to 10% of pregnancies often causing complications in the woman and requiring early delivery of their baby.

Women who had one or more pregnancies affected by preeclampsia or other types of pregnancy hypertension were more likely to have a stroke, heart attack, heart failure, or similar event.

Women with pregnancy high blood pressure had twice the number of deaths in this follow-up period from cardiovascular disease compared with women without pregnancy high blood pressure. These women also developed chronic hypertension 4.5 times faster than women without pregnancy high blood pressure.

The increased risk that occurred in those women with previous pregnancy high blood pressure was found as early as one year after pregnancy compared to women without pregnancy high blood pressure. 

Approximately 10,000 people die each year from cardiovascular disease (CVD) - including coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke and other circulatory diseases. CVD is the most common cause of death in Ireland, accounting for 36% of all deaths. The largest number of these deaths relate to CHD - mainly heart attack - at 5,000. 22% of premature deaths (under age 65) are from CVD.

Lead author, Dr Fergus McCarthy, INFANT Research Centre, University College Cork, said: “This research further supports the evidence that what occurs in pregnancy has lifelong implications for a mother’s health. By looking at pregnancy outcomes, we may have an excellent opportunity to identify women at high risk of cardiovascular disease and offer them early interventions after pregnancy to try and reduce this risk. It is critical now that we focus our research on potential interventions to improve the long-term health of mothers”

Professor Lucy Chappell, Department of Women & Children’s Health, King’s College London said: “These results clearly show that we should now look at how we share this information with women who have had pregnancy hypertension, and that we need to find out what interventions work for these women so that they can reduce their risk of heart disease later in life. It is essential that we work with women and all the healthcare professionals involved in their care so that we can tailor the interventions appropriately to this period of a woman’s life.”

The next steps in this research are to determine what interventions, such as diet modifications, salt reduction, exercise or medications that may protect the heart, may work in the women after pregnancy to try and reduce this risk and improve long term health.

University College Cork

Coláiste na hOllscoile Corcaigh

College Road, Cork T12 K8AF

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