The More Babies, the Bigger Risk for Blocked Arteries

Atherosclerosis more likely in women with four or more births

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Pregnancy and giving birth can put a lot of stress on women's bodies. It's possible that mothers could have an increased risk of heart disease associated with pregnancy.

A recent study found that women who gave birth to four or more children were more likely than those who gave birth two to three times to have a buildup of substances in their coronary arteries that block the supply of blood to the heart or thickening of their arteries.

The researchers explained that these are early signs of heart disease, and suggested that further studies are needed to better understand the connection, especially in women who have given birth once or never.

"Get a heart check-up after giving birth."

The lead author of this study was Monika Sanghavi, MD, from the Department of Cardiology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas.

The study included 1,331 women ages 30 to 65 years from the Dallas Heart Study.

The average age of these women was 41 years, and 53 percent were black.

The women self-reported the number of times they had given birth to a live baby.

The researchers used MRI to measure each woman's coronary artery calcification (buildup of plaque in the coronary artery) and their aortic wall thickness to determine if any of them had atherosclerosis in the walls of the heart and arteries.

Plaque is a mixture of fat, cholesterol and other substances in the blood that block blood flow through the arteries. Atherosclerosis happens when plaque builds up in the walls of the arteries that supply blood to many parts of the body.

The findings of this study showed that an increased number of live births was associated with older age, Hispanic race, high blood pressure, high body mass index (height to weight ratio) and lower socioeconomic status.

The women who had four or more live births were 2.9 times more likely to develop coronary artery calcification and 1.7 times more likely to develop arterial wall thickening compared to the women who had two to three live births.

The researchers found that the association between having zero to one live births and developing coronary artery calcification or have an abnormal aortic wall thickness was not significant.

"Our findings add to the growing body of evidence that the changes associated with pregnancy may provide insight into a woman's future cardiovascular risk and deserves further attention," said Dr. Sanghavi in a press statement.

In addition, she suggested that doctors should be more thorough when documenting their patients' pregnancy histories to better understand each woman's potential risk for heart disease.

This research was limited because the researchers did not have data on whether or not the women had chosen to become pregnant and on women who were unable to become pregnant; this information would be important when investigating the increased risk of atherosclerosis in women with zero to one live births.

This study was presented on March 29 at the American College of Cardiology's 63rd Annual Scientific Meeting. Research findings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Review Date: 
April 1, 2014
Last Updated:
April 1, 2014