Moms-to-Be, How’s Your Heart?

Recurrent preeclampsia may be linked to heart abnormalities in mothers

(RxWiki News) Ask any mother — pregnancy isn’t all glowing skin and food cravings. It also includes its fair share of uncomfortable side effects and temporary health problems. And one of those health problems could indicate a larger issue.

Women who experience preeclampsia, or pregnancy-related high blood pressure, more than once may have recognizable heart abnormalities between pregnancies, a new study from Italy found. Researchers said these abnormalities could help predict a woman's risk for heart and blood vessel disease during her future pregnancies, as well as later in life.

Preeclampsia that begins before 32 weeks is considered early, and may force a mother to deliver early to protect both her baby’s and her own life.

Previous research has found that women who develop preeclampsia are seven times more likely to develop the condition again, and to have heart and blood vessel disease later in life. Until this study, it was difficult to predict which women were at greater risk for these complications.

This study looked at 75 women with a history of preeclampsia and 147 women without. None of these women were pregnant at the study's start.

All of these women became pregnant again within 24 months and were followed throughout their pregnancies. Heart imaging tests were performed between 12 and 18 months after their first delivery.

Among the 75 women who had preeclampsia during their first pregnancy, 29 percent developed it again.

The women who had preeclampsia in both pregnancies tended to have pre-pregnancy heart abnormalities. Compared to women who never had preeclampsia or only had it once, these women had abnormal changes in the size and function of their heart's left ventricle (the heart chamber that pumps blood through the body). Their left ventricles were thicker and had to work harder to pump less blood.

"Physicians have to look at the complicated pregnancy history as a potential risk factor for cardiovascular complications later in life, and in a subsequent pregnancy," said lead study author Herbert Valensise, MD, PhD, in a press release. Dr. Valensise is an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Tor Vergata University School of Medicine in Italy.

He concludes, "When we ask about heart risk factors such as smoking, high cholesterol, family history of heart and blood vessel disease, we should also ask about possible high blood pressure during pregnancy, especially early preeclampsia."

Researchers noted that more research is still needed.

This study was published Feb. 22 in the journal Hypertension.

No outside funding or conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Review Date: 
February 23, 2016