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May 05, 2014

High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy: A Lifelong Concern

New paper highlights long-term health risks associated with preeclampsia, a serious condition in which women develop high blood pressure during pregnancy.

The lifelong impact of high blood pressure during pregnancy is drastically overlooked, according to a recent paper published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

This paper reviewed the latest evidence on preeclampsia—a condition in which pregnant women develop high blood pressure during their second or third trimester. Preeclampsia affects anywhere from 2-8% of all pregnancies and if left untreated, can lead to serious—even fatal—complications for the mother and baby. Fortunately, diagnosis and treatment of preeclampsia has improved over the years and the condition usually resolves itself within three months of a woman giving birth. But once high blood pressure is resolved, women with preeclampsia are not in the clear.

According to research, women with preeclampsia have significantly higher risk for health complications later in life, such as chronic hypertension, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. In fact, preeclampsia may even affect the child’s health, increasing risk for high blood pressure later in life.

Still, many formulas used to calculate the risk for heart disease don’t take preeclampsia into account, potentially causing doctors to underestimate women’s cardiovascular risk. To address this issue, authors urge doctors to educate women about risks associated with preeclampsia and to closely monitor their health, long after the condition has been resolved. If women with preeclampsia have increased heart risks later in life, it’s important to address any cardiovascular risk factors they may have to help prevent potentially life-threatening complications.

Authors also encourage future research on this topic to better understand the long-term impact of preeclampsia on women’s health. Women have been long underrepresented in research and it’s important to engage more women with this condition in research studies.  We also need larger, well-designed studies to collect accurate and useful information about women with preeclampsia. After all, the more we know about the condition, the more we can do to help women with a history of preeclampsia prevent any negative consequences down the road.
Read the full study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is preeclampsia?
  • Preeclampsia is a serious condition that occurs when women develop high blood pressure during the second or third trimester of pregnancy. Preeclampsia affects anywhere from 2-8% of pregnancies and if left untreated, can lead to serious complications for the mother and child.
  • What are possible complications associated with preeclampsia?
  • When preeclampsia is severe, it can affect organs and cause serious problems in the mother and baby. However, symptoms of preeclampsia usually disappear within three months of giving birth. Women with a history of preeclampsia should also work closely with their doctor to address any risk factors they may have for heart disease, as preeclampsia increases cardiovascular risk later in life.

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