Women who have high blood pressure during pregnancy are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease later in life — 67 percent more likely if they have what is known as gestational hypertension, according to the American Heart Association’s new analysis of existing research. This type of hypertension, which develops during pregnancy in women who had normal blood pressure before becoming pregnant, also raises a woman’s risk for stroke by 83 percent later in life, compared with the risk facing women who do not have high blood pressure during pregnancy.

For pregnant women who develop a more severe type form of gestational hypertension, called preeclampsia, the risk for cardiovascular disease at a later date is nearly three times greater than it is for women who do not develop preeclampsia. The AHA’s analysis, published in the journal Circulation, also links later-in-life cardiovascular risks to four other pregnancy complications. Gestational diabetes (which is the onset of Type 2 diabetes during pregnancy) was found to increase risk for cardiovascular disease by 68 percent, preterm birth (having a baby before 37 weeks) or stillbirth roughly doubled the risk and having a placental abruption (when the placenta separates from the inner wall of the uterus before birth) raised cardiovascular risk by 82 percent. But the report also notes that breastfeeding may help reduce the future risk for cardiovascular disease facing women who have experienced these pregnancy complications. In addition, the AHA urges women who have had such complications to improve their cardiovascular future with simple lifestyle interventions, such as eating a heart-healthy diet and increasing physical activity.

— Linda Searing