Heart disease after pregnancy | Norton Healthcare Louisville, Ky.

Some pregnancy complications can signal risk for heart disease after delivery

If you’ve experienced either gestational high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia, you need to be vigilant about your heart health for the rest of your life.

Pre-eclampsia and gestational hypertension are two common forms of high blood pressure during pregnancy. Once baby is born and blood pressure falls, many women move on with their busy lives. But these pregnancy complications are indicators for an increased chance of heart disease later in life.

Pre-eclampsia occurs in about 5% to 8% of pregnant women after the 20th week of pregnancy or after giving birth. The high blood pressure is accompanied by protein in the urine or other physical symptoms, such as a severe persistent headache and vision changes.

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Because heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in women, if you’ve experienced either gestational high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia, you need to be vigilant about your heart health for the rest of your life.

“Scientists are still studying the link but believe that pre-eclampsia doesn’t actually cause future cardiovascular disease — rather, bodily changes during pregnancy unmask a woman’s underlying risk for cardiovascular disease,” said Lyndsey D. Neese, M.D., OB/GYN and medical director for obstetrics, Norton Healthcare. “In that sense, having a history of preeclampsia is similar to having a family history of heart disease or stroke.”

Women who have had gestational high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia are three to four times more likely to develop high blood pressure as early as five years after delivery compared with women who had pregnancies with no complications. They also have at least two times the risk for heart disease, including plaque buildup, heart attack, congestive heart failure or cardiomyopathy, which causes an enlarged heart.

“If you have a history of these complications, it’s imperative you let your health care provider know and get regular checkups to keep tabs on your heart health,” Dr. Neese said. “You can decrease your risk by following the American Heart Association’s lifestyle recommendations. These include making healthy food choices, exercising, quitting smoking and practicing stress management.”


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