Pregnancy-related high blood pressure puts women at higher risk of heart disease later on, new research suggests.
In the study, researchers analysed an average of seven years of follow-up data on more than 220 000 women in the United Kingdom. Those who had gestational high blood pressure or preeclampsia in at least one pregnancy had stiffer arteries, and two to five times the rate of chronic high blood pressure later on, the findings showed.
Chronic high blood pressure
These women were more likely to develop heart problems, including coronary artery disease, heart failure and valve disease, according to the report published online in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Up to half the risk was driven by chronic high blood pressure, the investigators found. That "implies that treating high blood pressure may be especially important in this population," said study lead author Dr Michael Honigberg. He's a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Future research could assess new ways of treating high blood pressure ("hypertension") or simply treating it more aggressively in women who have had it at least once during pregnancy, Honigberg suggested.
"Research over the past decade has shown there are sex-specific risk factors for cardiovascular disease among women," Honigberg said in a hospital news release. "But there were still some significant gaps in our understanding of those risks, and one gap is whether the elevated risk persists long-term after a hypertensive pregnancy, or whether other women 'catch up' as cardiovascular risk increases with age in the population overall."
Asking about women's history
Doctors are still figuring out how to predict and prevent high blood pressure problems during pregnancy, he noted. "But what we can do is look ahead and try to mitigate the risk of these women developing cardiovascular disease later in life," Honigberg said.
That includes heart-healthy lifestyle changes such as exercise, eating a healthy diet, not smoking and controlling weight. Some women may also benefit from medication, he explained.
"You'd be shocked at how few physicians who aren't obstetrician/gynaecologists – including cardiologists – ask their female patients if they've had a hypertensive disorder of pregnancy," Honigberg said. "This research really underscores the importance of clinicians asking about this history, and of women sharing it."
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