Preeclampsia May Predict Your Heart Future

A new report tells us that women who suffer from preeclampsia during their pregnancies are at greater risk for heart attacks, blood clots, and strokes as they age. The condition occurs in only some 5% of all pregnancies, hitting some 300,000 U.S. women every year. Preeclampsia is characterized by protein in the urine, high blood pressure, vision problems, and headaches. While the condition tends to vanish a short time after delivery, there is mounting evidence that preeclampsia predisposes a woman to double the risk of stroke or heart attack in the future. 

Queen's University's Professor Graeme Smith, an obstetrician gynecologist with the Ontario based institution, is keeping track of some 600 women after their deliveries, half of whom suffered from preeclampsia during their pregnancies. Smith published his most current results in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in which he compared 70 women from the preeclampsia group with those in the control group. Within one year after delivering their babies, the women who had suffered from preeclampsia had higher values for body mass index (BMI), blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure than did those women who had not had preeclampsia.

Greater Tendency

An earlier study from this year showed that women who had had the condition had a greater tendency toward developing blood clots, while a study from two years ago determined that women who had suffered from high blood pressure in pregnancy tended to show more hardening of the arteries than those who had not.

Another obstetrician, David Williams, from the University College London, published an analysis in 2007 of 25 studies on preeclampsia and discovered that four out of every 100 women in their middle 40's who had experienced normal pregnancies would have heart attacks or strokes 10 years down the line. This number doubled to 8 out of 100 women in those who had suffered from preeclampsia during their pregnancies. In those women who had experienced the condition during more than one pregnancy, the risk rose even higher.

Obstetrician and preeclampsia researcher Thomas Easterling, from the University of Washington Medical School called the data from these studies, "overwhelming," and adds that these findings should sound an alarm bell for women who develop preeclampsia, since while they are still in their fertile years, these women,  "are, for the most part, young, healthy women." Women in this high risk category still have time to take steps to protect themselves through diet and lifestyle changes and make sure their health is assessed at regular intervals after delivery, for the rest of their lives.

Direct Cause?

The consensus of researchers in the field is that preeclampsia is not the direct cause of later heart disease, but rather serves as an early warning that a woman's heart may not be in the pink of health. Smith believes that pregnancy acts as a kind of stress test and says that, "How much or how badly you fail that stress test really is an indicator of your future health risk."

Williams tells women with preeclampsia to undergo frequent assessments for cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and blood sugar so that treatment can be started should levels rise above normal values. However, much still needs to be done to get the word out as most doctors are still not aware of the link between preeclampsia and cardiac health.

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