Heart Health: Links to Pregnancy and Delivery
Welcome to this month’s Women’s Health newsletter. Our topic is Heart Concerns Linked to Premature Delivery. Factors that affect a woman’s reproductive health can also have an effect on her heart, say studies presented at the American Heart Association meeting.
Giving birth prematurely or delivering a baby that’s small for gestational age are both linked to a later risk of cardiovascular disease for women. The first study looked for links between gestational size, the timing of the birth, and the risk of cardiovascular disease. The researchers studied one million Swedish women who had given birth to their first baby after 1973. Only women who carried one baby during pregnancy were included. They were followed for an average of 16 years, but some for as long as 33 years.
Researchers found that women who had delivered a small for gestational age baby, or a preterm baby, had a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. They also found that women who had both a small and preterm baby had a two to three times higher risk of cardiovascular disease later in life. Dr. Erik Engelson says that the increased risk appears to be lifelong. He adds it’s even more important to pay attention to the risk factors that you can modify, such as quitting smoking, eating healthy, exercising, and avoiding excess weight.
A second study looked at data from 435,000 births in Denmark. It came to a similar conclusion. In this study, the births occurred from 1973 to 1983, and the data came from the mother’s medical records from 1977 to 2006. More than 27,000 of the women had at least one preterm birth. And, there were nearly 41,000 cases of cardiovascular disease in the whole study population. The researchers found that women with a history of preterm birth had 47 percent higher odds of developing cardiovascular disease than women without such histories.
Women who had more than one preterm birth had three times the increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. Lead study author Dr. Janet Catov admits that she doesn’t know exactly why the risks are increased. Her hypothesis is that these women may be experiencing pregnancy a bit differently. It could be that what puts them at risk for preterm birth is also related to cardiovascular disease risk later in life. Dr. Catov notes that researchers can’t be certain of the cause from this data, only that there is an association. She advises women who have had preterm births to talk with their physicians about their cholesterol levels and their cardiovascular risks.
For more information, always consult your doctor. Thank you for listening. Please visit our website for more information on health and wellness topics.