New Moms Need Their Blood Pressure Checked

Hypertensive pregnancy complications linked to later cardiovascular risk factors

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Women who have pregnancy complications may feel relieved when a healthy delivery is in the past. But women who had high blood pressure while pregnant may want to let their doctor know.

A recent study looked at women who had pregnancy complications related to high blood pressure.

These women were more likely to have risk factors related to heart disease and diabetes a few years after giving birth than women who didn't have high blood pressure during pregnancy.

This study did not look at rates of heart disease and diabetes among these women.

These findings mean that women who had high blood pressure during pregnancy may want to be aware of their possible risks and discuss them with their doctor.

"Had preeclampsia? Tell your primary care doctor."

The study, led by Wietske Hermes, MD, of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, looked at later cardiovascular risk factors in women who had pregnancy complications related to high blood pressure.

The researchers compared two groups of women: 306 women who developed high blood pressure conditions during pregnancy and then 99 women who had normal blood pressure throughout their pregnancies.

The women were all examined 2.5 years after they had given birth. The researchers measured their height, weight, blood pressure and their levels of blood sugar, insulin, cholesterol, triglycerides and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein.

High-sensitivity C-reactive protein levels are a way to assess the amount of inflammation in a person. Inflammation occurs when the body is trying to protect itself from harm.

The researchers found that high blood pressure and metabolic syndrome were considerably more common among women who had experienced high blood pressure pregnancy complications than among women who hadn't.

Metabolic syndrome describes a group of risk factors which together raise a person's risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

About a third of the women (34 percent) who had high blood pressure during pregnancy had high blood pressure 2.5 years later, compared to only 1 percent of the women who had not experienced high blood pressure during pregnancy.

Metabolic syndrome was found among 25 percent of the women who had high blood pressure during pregnancy, compared to 5 percent of the women who did not have high blood pressure during pregnancy.

Women who had high blood pressure complications during pregnancy were also more likely to have higher overall blood pressure (both systolic and diastolic), a larger waist circumference and a greater body mass index (BMI).

BMI is a ratio of a person's height to weight. It is used to determine whether a person is a healthy weight or not.

The other measurements — blood sugar levels, insulin measurements, total cholesterol levels, triglycerides and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein levels — were also all higher in the women who had high blood pressure during pregnancy than among the other women.

"In women with a history of hypertension [high blood pressure], hypertension and metabolic syndrome are more common, and they have higher levels of biochemical cardiovascular risk factors 2.5 years after pregnancy," the researchers wrote.

The greater risk factors among women who had high blood pressure during pregnancy mean that these women may want to consider screening for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

"This study provides important information about the long-term implications of hypertension with pregnancy," said Sarah Samaan, MD, a cardiologist with Legacy Heart Center in Dallas-Fort Worth and a dailyRx expert.

"Many of the women included developed hypertension with pregnancy but not pre-eclampsia," she said. "That's important because hypertension is becoming a more common complication of pregnancy, likely due to lifestyle, diet and obesity."

Dr. Samaan said that these women should have regular check-ups with their doctor in the years after pregnancy.

"Hypertension is generally easy to manage, but if left untreated, it can cause heart disease, stroke and kidney failure," she said. "One important message from this study is that if a woman does develop high blood pressure during her pregnancy, she should be closely monitored by her primary physician in the years after."

Dr. Samaan added that having high blood pressure does not always cause other symptoms, even when the blood pressure is dangerously high.

"That's one reason it's important to get regular medical check ups," she said.

The study was published in the June issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

The research was funded by the Nuts Ohra Foundation in the Netherlands. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
June 27, 2013
Last Updated:
September 6, 2013