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How Pregnancy's High Blood Pressure Could Reveal Heart Disease Risk

Pregnant Woman and Stethoscope (Image credit: <a href=''>Pregnancy photo</a> via Shutterstock)

Elevated blood pressure during pregnancy may be a risk factor for heart disease later in life, even for seemingly healthy women, a new study from Finland suggests.

Women who had at least one high blood pressure reading during pregnancy (but were not diagnosed with a disorder) were 1.4 times more likely to have heart failure, and two times more likely to die from a heart attack later in life compared with women who had normal blood pressure during pregnancy, the researchers said.

Women with gestational hypertension, or high blood pressure after 20 weeks of pregnancy, were about 1.7 times more likely to have a heart attack; 1.6 times more likely to have a stroke; and three times more likely to die from a heart attack, compared with women who had normal blood pressure during pregnancy.

The findings were similar for women who had no traditional risk factors for heart disease before pregnancy; in other words, they didn't smoke; they had a normal body weight; they were less than 35 years old; and they did not have Type 2 diabetes.

Previous studies have found that preeclampsia, a serious condition characterized by high blood pressure and increased levels of protein in the urine, is linked to an increased risk of heart and kidney disease later in life.

Changes that occur during pregnancy, including an increase in blood volume, put extra stress on the body, and can sometimes reveal a previously silent heart condition.

The new findings suggest that women who develop high blood pressure during pregnancy may need to be monitored for the development of heart disease risk factors, the researchers said.

However, because the study was conducted in Finland, it's not clear whether the results apply to women in other countries, the researchers said.

The study involved more than 10,000 Finnish women who gave birth in 1966, had their blood pressure measured about seven times during  pregnancy, and were followed for about 40 years. About one-third of the women had a high blood pressure measurement at least once during pregnancy.

The study is published this month in the journal Circulation.

Pass it on: High blood pressure in pregnancy may be a risk factor for later heart disease.

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Rachael Rettner
Rachael has been with Live Science since 2010. She has a masters degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a Bachelor of Science in molecular biology and a Master of Science in biology from the University of California, San Diego.