Pregnant Now, Watch Your Heart Later

Preeclampsia and high blood pressure during pregnancy may predict heart problems later

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Two of the most common pregnancy complications are pre-eclampsia and high blood pressure during pregnancy. Either condition may mean paying closer attention to your heart later.

Pre-eclampsia involves having high blood pressure, but pregnant women can have high blood pressure without having pre-eclampsia.

In a recently published study, researchers looked at both of these possible complications of pregnancy in a large group of women. The study lasted almost four decades to see how the women did years after giving birth.

The results showed that women who had high blood pressure of any kind during pregnancy were at a higher risk for a range of heart issues.

"Attend all prenatal appointments."

The very long-term study was led by Tuija Männistö, MD, PhD, of the Epidemiology Branch at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development within the National Institutes of Health.

The researchers tracked 10,314 women who gave birth in Finland in 1966 for an average of 39 years. They gathered data on the women's blood pressure measurements and related medical data from the women's medical records and questionnaires.

The researchers found that having pre-eclampsia or any other kind of high blood pressure during pregnancy was linked to a range of cardiovascular problems later in life.

Pre-eclampsia is a high blood pressure condition in pregnancy that also involves having protein in a woman's urine. The only way to treat pre-eclampsia is to give birth.

Women who had high blood pressure during pregnancy were found to have about a 44 percent higher risk of having ischemic heart disease than those without high blood pressure during pregnancy.

The pregnant women who had high blood pressure also had a 75 percent higher risk over their lifetimes of having a heart attack, and they were about three times more likely to die of a heart attack.

These women had a 78 percent higher risk of heart failure and 59 percent higher risk of ischemic stroke.

The researchers also found higher risks for kidney problems among the women with high blood pressure during pregnancy. These women were nearly twice as likely to experience kidney disease than women who did not have high blood pressure during pregnancy, and they had about a 52 percent higher risk of developing diabetes.

Some of the women had only a high systolic blood pressure rating. Systolic pressure is the highest amount of pressure your heart uses with each beat. A healthy number is below 120.

Women who had only higher systolic blood pressure during pregnancy, but a normal-range diastolic (bottom) number, were about twice as likely to die from a heart attack than those with a healthy systolic blood pressure during pregnancy.

The women with higher systolic pressure also had a 43 percent higher risk of heart failure and a 42 percent higher risk of diabetes.

The only increased risk associated with having higher diastolic pressure only, but a healthy systolic number, was a slight increase (about 26 percent) in the risk of ischemic heart disease.

All these associations were seen even in women younger than 35 years when they gave birth who were nonsmokers, of a healthy weight and without gestational diabetes.

"Elevated blood pressure during pregnancy, regardless of type and even without known risk factors, signals high risk of later cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, and diabetes," the researchers wrote. "Clinical monitoring, risk factor evaluation, and early intervention could benefit women with hypertension in pregnancy."

The study was published February 12 in the journal Circulation. The research was funded by the Intramural Research Program of the National Institutes of Health, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Academy of Finland.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 12, 2013
Last Updated:
February 14, 2013