High blood pressure in pregnancy increases risk of future heart disease – study

UK team led by UCC researcher studied health records of 1.3m women from 1997 to 2016

Dr Fergus McCarthy from the Infant Research Centre at UCC:  ‘It is critical now that we focus our research on potential interventions to improve the long-term health of mothers.’ Photograph: Tomas Tyner/UCC

Dr Fergus McCarthy from the Infant Research Centre at UCC: ‘It is critical now that we focus our research on potential interventions to improve the long-term health of mothers.’ Photograph: Tomas Tyner/UCC

 

Women with high blood pressure in pregnancy, including conditions such as pre-eclampsia, have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disorders later in life, including stroke and heart failure, new research has found.

Dr Fergus McCarthy from the Infant Research Centre at University College Cork, while working at King’s College London, led a team of researchers that studied electronic UK health records from 1997 to 2016 to recreate a UK population-based cohort of 1.3 million women covering nearly 1.9 million completed pregnancies.

A statistical analysis was used to determine the associations between hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, such as pre-eclampsia, and 12 cardiovascular disorders.

They found that during the 20-year study period, 18,624 cardiovascular events occurred (such as heart attacks, stroke and heart failure), of which 65 per cent occurred in women under 40 years of age.

Women with pregnancy-related high blood pressure had twice the number of deaths in this follow-up period from cardiovascular disease compared with women without pregnancy high blood pressure. These women also developed chronic hypertension 4.5 times faster than women without pregnancy high blood pressure.

One year

The increased risk that occurred in those women with previous pregnancy high blood pressure was found as early as one year after pregnancy compared to women without pregnancy high blood pressure.

Dr McCarthy said the research further supports the evidence that what occurs in pregnancy has lifelong implications for a mother’s health.

“By looking at pregnancy outcomes, we may have an excellent opportunity to identify women at high risk of cardiovascular disease and offer them early interventions after pregnancy to try and reduce this risk. It is critical now that we focus our research on potential interventions to improve the long-term health of mothers,” he added.

The next steps in this research are to determine what interventions, such as diet modifications, salt reduction, exercise or medications to protect the heart, may work best for women after pregnancy to try to reduce this risk and improve long-term health.

High blood pressure affects up to 10 per cent of pregnancies, often causing complications and requiring early delivery of the baby.

Approximately 10,000 people die each year from cardiovascular disease (CVD) – including coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke and other circulatory diseases.

CVD is the most common cause of death in Ireland, accounting for 36 per cent of all deaths. The largest number of these deaths relate to CHD – mainly heart attack – at 5,000. Some 22 per cent of premature deaths (under age 65) are from CVD.