Sept. 16 (UPI) -- Women who experience adverse pregnancy outcomes, ranging from high blood pressure to gestational diabetes, have a more than 25% higher risk for heart disease later in life than those who don't, a study published Wednesday by JAMA Cardiology found.
In an analysis of nearly 50,000 postmenopausal women taking part in the Women's Health Initiative, nearly 29% had been diagnosed with an adverse pregnancy outcome, the data showed. Almost 8% of these women later developed atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease after reaching menopause.
Just under 6% of the women who did not have an adverse pregnancy outcome developed the disease later in life, according to the researchers.
"Specific pregnancy complications can increase a woman's risk of heart disease, stroke and peripheral vascular disease," study co-author Dr. Nisha Parikh told UPI.
"Our study confirms that this risk extends well into post-menopause and beyond, spanning the fifth through eighth decades of life," said Parikh, a cardiologist at the University of California, San Francisco.
Atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, or atherosclerosis, is a hardening and narrowing of the arteries that can block them and lead to severe reductions in blood flow. It is among the leading causes of death among women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For this study, Parikh and her colleagues analyzed health data on 48,311 postmenopausal women 55 to 64 years old.
Overall, 13,482 had experienced at least one adverse pregnancy outcome, the most common of which were preterm delivery, at 50%; low birth weight, 43%; hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, 22%; high birth weight, 20%; and gestational diabetes, 7%.
Just over 9% of the postmenopausal women who had been diagnosed with hypertensive, or high blood pressure, disorders of pregnancy later developed atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, data showed.
Similarly, 9% of women diagnosed with gestational diabetes later developed atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, the researchers said.
Roughly 8% of the women who had the adverse pregnancy outcomes of preterm delivery and low or high birth weight later developed the severe form of heart disease.
The researchers hope that better understanding of the risk for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease after an adverse pregnancy outcome can encourage women to be screened for high blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity and diabetes and engage in more intensive heart healthy lifestyle changes, Parikh said.
"Women who experience pregnancy complications should feel empowered to ask their primary care doctors to counsel them on reducing their cardiovascular disease risk, she said.