Link between high blood pressure while pregnant and heart disease

Women who experience high blood pressure during pregnancy may have a higher risk of heart disease, according to new research. (Rawpixel pic)

CAMBRIDGE: New research has found that women who have high blood pressure during pregnancy appear to be more likely to develop heart disease and heart failure in later life.

Led by researchers at the University of Cambridge, UK, the new analysis looked at 21 studies involving a total of 3.6 million women to investigate how gestational hypertension, which is high blood pressure during pregnancy, may be linked to different kinds of cardiovascular disease, such as heart disease and heart failure.

The findings, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, showed that women who had high blood pressure during their first pregnancy had a 45% higher risk of overall cardiovascular disease and 46% higher risk of developing coronary heart disease, compared to women who did not have high blood pressure in pregnancy.

Women who had high blood pressure during one or more pregnancies had an 81% higher risk of cardiovascular disease, an 83% higher risk of coronary heart disease, and a 77% higher risk of heart failure.

The team say previous research has provided conflicting results about how gestational hypertension might affect the risk of heart disease, however their findings offer new evidence that it can increase the risk of experiencing cardiovascular events later in life.

They add that recurrent miscarriages, preterm birth, foetal growth restriction and pre-eclampsia have also all been previously linked with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease.

“When we looked at all the available research, the answer was clear: women who develop high blood pressure during pregnancy — even when it doesn’t develop into pre-eclampsia — are more likely to develop several different kinds of cardiovascular disease,” said senior author Dr Clare Oliver-Williams.

The researchers say it is still not clear why gestational hypertension could increase heart disease risk, however, they say it could be due to high blood pressure in pregnancy causing lasting damage that contributes to heart disease, or the demands of pregnancy on the body could reveal a previously unknown susceptibility to heart disease in women with gestational hypertension.

“It’s important that women know that it isn’t their fault that they developed high blood pressure in pregnancy, and developing heart disease isn’t a foregone conclusion,” added Dr Oliver-Williams.

“Women who have experienced gestational hypertension may have been dealt a tough hand, but it’s how they play those cards that matters the most. Small positive changes can really help.

“They can be as simple as eating more fruit and vegetables, small bouts of regular exercise and finding time to unwind, if that’s possible with kids around.”