Reproductive factors are closely associated with heart health, based on results of the Women’s Health Initiative Study that link pregnancy complications to increased risk for heart disease.
Published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, this study looked at the impact of reproductive factors on women’s risk for heart disease. Heart disease is the leading killer of women in the United States and research suggests that women with a history of pregnancy complications may have increased cardiovascular risk.
To learn more, researchers analyzed data from the Women’s Health Initiative Study, which included a set of clinical trials related to heart disease, cancer and osteoporosis. Nearly 73,000 women were included in the analysis, all of which completed questionnaires about their health, including reproductive history. Surveys included questions about a number of reproductive factors that have been linked to heart health, such as irregular periods, age at first birth, miscarriages and breastfeeding. Researchers then followed participants for about 12 years, tracking key outcomes like heart disease, heart attack and death.
After analysis, researchers found that four reproductive factors were associated with increased risk for heart disease, including younger age at first birth, history of still births and miscarriages and lack of breastfeeding. Interestingly, researchers also found that taking these factors into account helped better estimate cardiovascular risk in women. However, including reproductive factors in calculations did not change whether a woman was at low, intermediate or high risk for developing heart disease.
As authors explain, findings confirm that key reproductive factors like a history of miscarriages and lack of breastfeeding are associated with increased risk for heart disease. As a result, women with a history of pregnancy risks should pay special attention to heart health and address any existing cardiovascular risk factors.
However, findings also suggest that reproductive factors don’t need to be taken into account when estimating risk for heart disease in women. Currently, risk calculations include factors like age, family medical history, and history of high blood pressure. While reproductive factors may increase cardiovascular risk, it’s unlikely that they help refine original risk classifications.