by Deborah Bush, Director of Communications
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women. Despite a downward trend over the last four decades, death rates from this disease now appear to be increasing in women aged 35 to 54 years.
We know that women who have had preeclampsia have approximately double the risk for heart disease and stroke during the subsequent five to fifteen-year period. Important factors to consider when determining cardiovascular impact include the severity of the mother’s preeclampsia, whether or not it recurred, and a history of low birth weight babies. Research studies have shown that the risk of pregnancy complications and later cardiovascular disease is cumulative; and women who experienced preeclampsia, preterm birth, and fetal growth restriction were found to have seven times the risk of hospital admission or death from coronary artery disease.
Keep in mind that, in addition to pregnancy history, there are many other factors that affect a woman’s heart health as she ages — but many of the risk factors for preeclampsia and diseases affecting your blood pressure and heart are the same. They include a family history of high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, being overweight, problems with blood clotting, and metabolic syndrome. If you had preeclampsia, it does not mean you will definitely develop heart problems, but for some women, pregnancy can be considered a failed stress test, possibly unmasking other health issues.
If you had preeclampsia during any of your pregnancies, you should take extra care to monitor the health of your heart, consider seeing a preventive cardiologist, and make lifestyle modifications now to reduce your risk. If you have other risk factors in addition to your history of preeclampsia, these steps become even more important.
New guidelines from the American Heart Association encourage assessment of a woman’s pregnancy history. You should let your health care providers know:
- the number of pregnancies you had,
- if you had preeclampsia or high blood pressure during any of them,
- if you had gestational diabetes during any of them,
- the number of miscarriages or stillbirths you had,
- if any of your babies were born early or small for gestational age, and
- the weight of your babies.
In addition to www.preeclampsia.org, additional pregnancy and heart health information can be found on Seconds Count, the patient website of the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions (SCAI) ‑- www.scai.org/SecondsCount/Disease.
End February as Heart Awareness Month right by joining SCAI and the Preeclampsia Foundation for a WOMEN AND HEART HEALTH Twitter Chat today, Feb. 28 at 1:00 pm EST using the hashtag #heartchat. Follow us @preeclampsia.