Women who experience diabetes, high blood pressure, and other cardiovascular complications during pregnancy are far more likely to develop chronic heart disease and metabolic disorders later in life, new research shows.
The findings, by physicians with the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, suggest such complications may be early biomarkers for cardio problems and diabetes women will eventually develop — providing a new way to identify women at risk that could allow doctors to help prevent those conditions.
"Pregnancy is essentially a cardiovascular stress test," said researcher Graeme N. Smith, M.D., a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Kingston General Hospital, Queen's University.
"Common pregnancy complications such as pre-eclampsia, gestational hypertension, gestational diabetes, gestational impaired glucose intolerance, clinically significant placental abruption, preterm birth and/or delivery of a growth restricted baby are perhaps the earliest clinically identifiable markers for a woman's increased risk of premature cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular death."
The research paper — entitled "Pregnancy as a Window to Future Health" — notes that, for most women, the demands of pregnancy on the cardiovascular and metabolic systems are some of the highest the body will endure.
Dr. Smith and colleagues noted that, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, almost one in every two adults have at least one chronic illness and seven out of 10 deaths annually are attributed to chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Recognizing the connection between pregnancy complications and chronic diseases may help doctors prevent them in millions of patients.
"The rates of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and obesity in women are rising, and the current practice is to wait until late in the life cycle to screen for these conditions," said George Saade, a co-author of the report. "SMFM believes that the tools and information to assess risk should be expanded to include information obtained during pregnancy. Clues during this period can raise red flags for a woman's health later in life."
The researchers recommend that obstetricians work more closely with patients' primary care physicians to be sure that information about any pregnancy complications are included their permanent medical records and considered in screening and prevention efforts.
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