Women who experience gestational hypertension or preeclampsia in pregnancy will have a higher risk of cardiovascular events compared to women without such a history, according to a new study. This elevated risk has been shown to persist as women age into their 60s and beyond.
The research published online in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology looked at an average of seven years of follow-up data on more than 220,000 women who were recruited between 2006 and 2010 by the UK Biobank. The study showed that women with a history of hypertension in pregnancy had stiffer arteries and two to five times the rate of chronic hypertension later in life.
It was also found that women with hypertension were more likely to develop cardiovascular conditions over time, including coronary artery disease. Prior research suggested that heart failure, and two kinds of valvular heart disease, aortic stenosis and mitral regurgitation, had not previously been associated with hypertensive pregnancy.
Also, the study found that between half and one-third of the risk of coronary disease and heart failure was driven by chronic hypertension. This shows how important it is for health care providers to implement procedures to help treat high blood pressure in women who have had at least one hypertensive pregnancy.
Sex-Specific Risk Factors
“Research over the past decade has shown there are sex-specific risk factors for cardiovascular disease among women,” said lead author Michael C. Honigberg, MD, MPP, of Massachusetts General Hospital’s (MGH) Cardiology Division. “But there were still some significant gaps in our understanding of those risks, and one gap is whether the elevated risk persists long-term after a hypertensive pregnancy, or whether other women ‘catch up’ as cardiovascular risk increases with age in the population overall.”
“We’re still figuring out how to predict and prevent hypertensive disorders in pregnancy. But what we can do is look ahead and try to mitigate the risk of these women developing cardiovascular disease later in life.”
Women who have experienced preeclampsia in pregnancy should focus on heart-healthy lifestyle modifications such as controlling weight, exercising, eating healthy, and not smoking. Some may find they can additionally benefit from preventive medications or supplements.
According to another study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, research has shown that there are several first-time pregnancy complications that are associated with hypertension. Therefore, it is important to treat hypertension during pregnancy and after as recommended by a doctor.
Honigberg stresses that this research underscores the importance of healthcare providers asking about the history of hypertension in women during pregnancy to ensure heart health later in life. He concluded the study saying, “You’d be shocked at how few physicians who aren’t obstetrician/gynecologists, including cardiologists, ask their female patients if they’ve had a hypertensive disorder of pregnancy.”