Having high blood pressure in a first pregnancy quadruples a woman's risk of heart attack or death from heart disease, a new study finds.
About 2 percent to 8 percent of pregnant women with previously normal blood pressure develop a condition called preeclampsia, which includes high blood pressure that usually begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
In this study, Rutgers University researchers analyzed heart disease in 6,360 women in New Jersey, aged 18 to 54, who were diagnosed with preeclampsia during their first pregnancy between 1999 and 2013. These women were compared to pregnant women without preeclampsia.
Women with preeclampsia were four times more likely to suffer a heart attack or heart disease-related death, and more than two times more likely to die from other causes during the 15-year study period.
The findings were published online recently in the Journal of Women's Health.
"Women who were diagnosed with preeclampsia tended also to have a history of chronic high blood pressure, gestational diabetes and kidney disease, and other medical conditions," said study author Mary Downes Gastrich. She's an associate professor at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and a member of the Cardiovascular Institute of New Jersey.
The findings suggest that all women should be screened for preeclampsia throughout their pregnancy and that treatment should be given to those with preeclampsia within five years, Gastrich said.
"Medication such as low-dose aspirin also may be effective in bringing down blood pressure as early as the second trimester," Gastrich added in a Rutgers news release.
A single cause of preeclampsia -- which causes 15 percent of premature births in the United States -- hasn't been pinpointed, but it's believed to be related to insufficiently formed blood vessels in the placenta.
The March of Dimes has more on preeclampsia.
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