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Feb 23, 2018

Women with Preterm Deliveries Face Increased Heart Risk

Mothers of preemies are encouraged to have heart disease risk factors closely monitored.

Living a heart-healthy lifestyle is especially important for mothers of preemies, based on a recent study that found preterm delivery more than doubles risk of death from heart disease in women.

Published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, this study looked at the long-term effects of preterm birth in mothers. Preterm delivery occurs when a baby is born too early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy. It affects 11% of all pregnancies and has been linked to increased cardiovascular risk in mothers. However, findings are conflicting, and it’s unclear whether preterm delivery is an early marker for women at increased risk for heart disease.

To learn more, researchers analyzed data from 21 past studies, all of which examined the relationship between preterm delivery and future cardiovascular risk. These studies included 5.8 million women, 338,000 of whom had preterm deliveries.

Overall, researchers found that women with preterm births had 43% greater risk for heart disease, 65% greater risk of stroke, and were more than twice as likely to die from heart disease as women with normal deliveries.

However, there were many factors that affected cardiovascular risk after preterm delivery. Women with very early delivery—anytime before 32 weeks in pregnancy—had the highest cardiovascular risk among participants. Cardiovascular risk was also greatest in women who delivered early because of medical complications, such as fetal growth restriction or preeclampsia. Researchers also found that the more preterm births women had, the greater their risk for heart disease.

According to authors, findings confirm the association between early deliveries and increased cardiovascular risk in women. In this study, preterm delivery was associated with up to a two-fold increase in future heart risks, with risks being even greater in very early deliveries. Preterm delivery should be seen as a warning sign for mothers of preemies.

As a result, authors encourage close monitoring of women’s heart health after preterm delivery. It’s important that women are educated about potential increased heart risks and take steps to improve their heart health. That includes maintaining a healthy lifestyle and addressing any conditions like high blood pressure that are known to increase risk for heart disease.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How can I reduce my risk for heart disease?
  • Healthy lifestyle choices are key to reducing risk for heart disease. By eating a heart-healthy diet and staying physically active, you can help significantly reduce heart disease risk. Knowing your numbers—body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar—and family history is also important so that you can address any risk factors you may have for heart disease.
  • At what age should I worry about heart disease?
  • Risk factors that lead to heart disease often develop slowly over time and can take decades to develop. That’s why it’s important to make healthy lifestyle choices like eating healthystaying active and maintaining a healthy weight, at all stages in life. As an adult, it’s especially important to work closely with your doctor to monitor key risk factors and address any risk factors to reduce risk for heart disease.

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