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3 pregnancy complications that may predict heart disease in women

A woman’s pregnancy can help her physician determine her risk of heart disease years down the road.

The American Heart Association suggests physicians screen female patients for history of pregnancy-related:

  • Hypertension
  • Preeclampsia (a blood pressure abnormality during pregnancy)
  • Gestational diabetes

These conditions are markers for an increased risk of heart disease in women.

This type of screening is relatively new.

Cardiologist Sara Mobasseri, M.D., says, “In the past, we didn’t screen women for pregnancy-related complications, such as pregnancy-induced hypertension or preeclampsia.”

The research

Studies have followed women with pregnancy-induced hypertension or preeclampsia and found that, years later, they had higher incidences of heart attack and stroke.

“Preeclampsia can be a harbinger for cardiovascular disease five to 15 years after the pregnancy,” says Dr. Mobasseri. “There is a relationship and it is now considered a risk factor for heart disease in women with those types of complications.”

Screening and heart health guidelines

Physicians should now screen female patients for the following heart disease risk factors:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • A family history of premature heart disease
  • Tobacco use
  • Preeclampsia
  • Pregnancy-induced hypertension
  • Gestational diabetes

Dr. Mobasseri recommends patients who have had pregnancy complications meet the following goals for heart health:

  • Blood pressure: 135/85
  • Fasting blood glucose 107 or lower
  • Body mass index (BMI): 25 or less
  • Not smoking
  • Exercising most days of the week

If you’re not meeting these goals and you have experienced pregnancy complications, you should talk to your primary care physician about seeing a cardiologist.

“There is a clear relationship, there are guideline recommendations and it should be part of our practice in screening these women,” says Dr. Mobasseri.

For more information on heart disease screening for women, click here.

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