Feb. 22 (UPI) -- Women with a history of hypertensive disorders during pregnancy show signs of significant changes in the structure and function of their hearts 10 years after childbirth, according to a study published Monday in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Among those who experienced preeclampsia or gestational hypertension and still had high blood pressure 8 to 10 years after giving birth, nearly four of five women had left ventricular remodeling, or relative thickening of the walls of their left ventricles, the data showed.
Just over one-third of women who had neither had evidence of these structural heart changes up to 10 years after childbirth.
Left ventricular remodeling is a process by which the heart changes in size, shape and function. It is considered a precursor to heart disease.
The new findings may help identify women at high risk for long-term heart complications and enable early treatment to prevent heart disease, according to the researchers.
"Pregnancy-induced hypertensive disorders increase risk for development of hypertension and structural heart changes in just the decade after delivery," study co-author Dr. Malamo Countouris told UPI.
"Women with both a history of a hypertensive disorder of pregnancy in combination with current hypertension are the highest risk group for heart changes," said Countouris, co-director of the UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital Postpartum Hypertension Clinic in Pittsburgh.
Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, or high blood pressure-related health problems that develop in expecting mothers, affect up to 15% of pregnancies in the United States, Countouris said.
For this study, the researchers analyzed data on more than 500 women, roughly half of whom had a history of pregnancy-related hypertension.
They compared the blood pressure and heart health status of women in the two groups 8 to 10 years after childbirth.
None of the women in the study had clinical symptoms of heart disease at the time of their evaluation, Countouris said.
Eight to 10 years after childbirth, 79% of women with both a history of hypertensive disorders of pregnancy and current high blood pressure had left ventricular remodeling.
Just over 36% who had a history of pregnancy-related hypertensive disorders, but healthy current blood pressure, also had evidence of these changes in heart structure.
And among women who had high blood pressure 10 years after childbirth, but no history of hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, 46% showed signs of left ventricular remodeling.
In addition, having both a history of hypertensive disorder of pregnancy and current high blood pressure was associated with poorer left heart diastolic function, which reflected the left ventricle getting stiffer and not filling with blood to its full capacity.
"For mothers, we [think] that the occurrence of a hypertensive disorder of pregnancy independently mediates the initiation of heart wall thickening and remodeling and hence progression to [heart] disease in later life," Countouris said.
"Further investigations are needed to understand the molecular mechanisms linking hypertensive disorders of pregnancy with later life cardiac changes and what we can do to mediate that risk," she said.