Obesity Boosts Heart Attack Risk After Childbirth

Pregnant Woman and Stethoscope (Image credit: <a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-60194074/stock-photo-pregnant-woman-being-examine-by-a-doctor-with-a-stethoscope-isolated-on-white.html?src=c725eec3a34bf5911bba7b73980be99b-4-41'>Pregnancy photo</a> via Shutterstock)

Obese women may be at an increased risk for heart attack and stroke after having a baby, a new study from Denmark suggests.

The results show that young, obese women were twice as likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke four to five years after giving birth compared to normal weight women.

The results held even after the researchers took into account factors that might increase the risk of heart disease, such as smoking and the complications of pregnancy.

The findings suggest that even in young women, obesity may pose a health risk.

"Young women need to be aware that there are serious health risks associated with obesity and poor lifestyle habits, and these [negative effects] appear to set in early," study researcher Michelle Schmiegelow, a Ph.D. student at the University of Copenhagen, said in a statement

However, the researchers note that heart attacks and strokes in young women are still quite rare. And because the study only found an association, it cannot prove that obesity caused the heart attacks and strokes in these women. The study did consider the women's physical activity levels, which may have played a role in the link.

The study analyzed information on more than 273,100 Danish women who gave birth between 2004 and 2009. The women were 30 years old on average, and had no history of stroke, heart disease or kidney problems. Women were classified into weight groups based on their body mass index (BMI), a ratio of weight to height that's used as an indicator of body fat. During the study 68 women suffered a heart attack and 175 experienced an ischemic stroke, which occurs when the blood supply to the brain is blocked.

Although the researchers limited their study to women who had given birth, they suspect their results might apply to all women, but further research is needed to confirm this.

The study will be presented this week at the American College of Cardiology's annual meeting in San Francisco.

Pass it on: Even in young women, obesity may increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

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Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.