Having hypertension during pregnancy may affect cardiovascular health for life

Women with a history of preeclampsia or gestational hypertension in pregnancy developed chronic hypertension at a 2- to 3-fold higher rate and had 70 percent and 30 percent higher rates of type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol, respectively, than women who had normal blood pressure in pregnancy. These findings suggest that women with pregnancies complicated by high blood pressure may benefit from cardiovascular screening throughout their lives. The study is published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Between 10 to 15 percent of women experience hypertensive complications during pregnancy, such as preeclampsia or gestational hypertension, and substantial evidence shows that these women are more likely to have a heart attack or stroke later in life, even if their blood pressure returns to normal immediately following pregnancy. What is less clear is to what extent they are also more likely to develop cardiovascular disease risk factors and when these risk factors begin to emerge after pregnancy.

Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health studied more than 58,000 women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study II (NHS II) who did not have cardiovascular disease or risk factors at the time of enrollment and had given birth at least once. Women were followed for self-reported physician diagnosed chronic hypertension and high cholesterol and confirmed type 2 diabetes from their first birth through 2013 with a mean follow up of 25 to 32 years. Compared to women who had normal blood pressure in pregnancy, those with preeclampsia or gestational hypertension were significantly more likely to develop cardiovascular risk factors throughout follow-up and also developed these risk factors at younger ages and sooner after pregnancy.

According to the researchers, these findings suggest that preeclampsia and gestational hypertension can alert women and their health care providers about their future cardiovascular health. In addition to screening, women who have had these common pregnancy complications should tell their doctor and adopt a heart healthy diet and lifestyle, just as they would if they had a family history of cardiovascular disease.

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