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Pregnancy complications could increase women’s risk for heart disease later in life

Researchers say women’s hormones can play a role in other health complications

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Photo (c) didesign021 - Getty Images
There are many types of health risks associated with pregnancy complications, but a new study is exploring how such complications can negatively affect women’s health over longer periods of time as they age. 

According to researchers, women who experience pregnancy complications -- like gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, or preterm birth, among several others -- are at an increased risk of developing heart disease later in life. The team says that other factors related to reproductive hormone levels, such as early menopause or starting periods early, could also increase the risk of heart disease. 

Identifying the health risks

To understand how pregnancy complications and other hormone-related health conditions could affect the likelihood of women developing heart disease, the researchers analyzed over 30 previous studies that tracked women’s health over long periods of time. In evaluating a number of risk factors, they learned that several health conditions could put women at an increased risk of heart disease in later life. 

Their work revealed that preeclampsia -- or high blood pressure during pregnancy -- gives women the highest likelihood of developing heart disease later in life, as women with this condition were four times as likely to be diagnosed with heart disease. For women with gestational diabetes or those who had preterm births, the risk of heart disease was twice as likely later in life. 

Several other reproductive health factors were also associated with an increased risk of heart disease, including miscarriage, low birth weight, early periods, stillbirth, and early menopause. 

The researchers explained that lifestyle and genetic factors could affect women’s risk of heart disease. However, because of the clear link between female reproductive health and long-term heart health concerns, the researchers hope that these findings inspire women to be screened for any potential disease risk.

“Identifying reproductive risk factors at an early stage in the life of women might facilitate the initiation of strategies to modify potential risks,” the researchers wrote. “Policymakers should consider incorporating reproductive risk factors as part of the assessment of cardiovascular risk in clinical guidelines.” 

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