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Preeclampsia raises risk of heart disease, heart failure

Preeclampsia is a blood pressure disorder that can occur during pregnancy. A new study suggests mothers with preeclampsia may have an increased risk of developing heart disease later in life.
[pregnant couple discussing with doctor]
A new study suggests physicians should inform pregnant women with preeclampsia of the heart health risks associated with the condition.


Preeclampsia and eclampsia may cause birth complications, as they affect the blood supply to the fetus. In preeclampsia, the mother has high blood pressure, and the disorder can also endanger the mother’s health if it develops into eclampsia – the onset of seizures or even coma.


Worldwide, preeclampsia is estimated to affect 5-10 percent of all pregnancies, and in developing countries, the condition causes 40-60 percent of maternal deaths.


Some of the risk factors for preeclampsia include high blood pressure, kidney disease, obesity, and having a multiple pregnancy.


The condition also seems to be more common in women who have had other illnesses, such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, polycystic ovaries, and others.


New research suggests preeclampsia may significantly increase the risk of heart disease in the mother.

Preeclampsia linked to fourfold increase in heart failure risk


The study was conducted by a team of researchers at Keele University in the United Kingdom, and the findings were published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.


The team was led by Dr. Pensee Wu, lecturer in obstetrics and gynecology at Keele, and honorary consultant obstetrician and maternal fetal medicine subspecialist at the University Hospital of the North Midlands National Health Service (NHS) Trust.


Dr. Wu has conducted previous research on the biomarkers of preeclampsia, as well as on the link between the condition and other health risks. The study Dr. Wu and her colleagues published last year shows a correlation between preeclampsia and diabetes, suggesting that preeclampsia may double the risk of developing diabetes later in life.


The current research on the link between preeclampsia and heart disease consists of a meta-analysis of 22 existing studies, summing up over 6.5 million women.


The analysis revealed that women who have preeclampsia during pregnancy have a fourfold risk of having heart failure later in life. Furthermore, the study showed women with preeclampsia are twice as likely to develop heart disease, have a stroke, or die from a cardiovascular incident later in life.


The authors suggest physicians should offer more comprehensive advice to women, including on the increased heart disease risks of preeclampsia, as well as recommendations on how to avoid the illness, where possible.

“Doctors need to be aware of the importance of educating women about their increased level of cardiovascular risk and of advising women about the beneficial effects of changing their lifestyle, such as increasing their level of physical activity and not smoking.
I hope this work will raise awareness amongst hospital doctors of the advice that they need to give to women with preeclampsia.”

Dr. Pensee Wu

Heart risks highest in first 10 years after a pregnancy with preeclampsia


Dr. Wu adds: “The study shows the risk is highest during the first 10 years after a pregnancy affected by preeclampsia, so it is important that women are regularly monitored during this period for cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity. “


“The risks begins to increase for coronary heart disease, heart failure and stroke within 1 year after giving birth, but it is highest between 1-10 years after giving birth,” she continues.


The twofold diabetes risk found in Dr. Wu’s previous research also persisted from less than 1 year after giving birth to more than 10 years after delivery. This further emphasizes the need to closely evaluate and monitor these high-risk women in primary care.


Dr. Randula Haththotuwa, co-author on the current study, academic clinical fellow, and trainee GP, also weighs in on the contribution of the findings.

“This study is extremely important for general practice as it will highlight the importance of lifelong monitoring of women who have suffered from preeclampsia of cardiovascular risk factors.”

Dr. Randula Haththotuwa

Read about a possible treatment for preeclampsia.


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