Preterm Birth Linked To Increased Heart Disease Risk For Mom

Asian mother holds her newborn baby

Moms who delivered their babies early will want to pay closer attention to heart health. A recent study found that women who delivered a baby preterm were more likely to experience rising blood pressures later, compared to women who delivered closer to term.

The study published in the journal Hypertension shows that a history of preterm birth (defined as a birth before the 37th week of pregnancy) may bring health risks for not only for baby, but for mom, too. If the women had this pattern, they were also more likely to show signs of coronary artery disease, which is associated with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Pregnancy can have physical effects on a woman’s body. Pregnancy-related conditions (for example, gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia) are known to raise a woman’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Preterm birth should now join that list, says Dr. JoAnn E. Manson, the Michael and Lee Bell Professor of Women’s Health at Harvard Medical School.

"I think this study adds to the mounting evidence that preterm birth is yet another complication of pregnancy that indicates a higher risk of cardiovascular disease in the mother," she says.

premature baby and mom
Credit: iStock / Yobro10

Researchers examined data from more than 1,000 mothers in several major US cities. Women were divided into three categories; low stable, moderate, and moderate increasing, based on how their systolic blood pressure (the first number in a reading) changed over time.

Women with "moderate increasing" blood pressure were 19% more likely to have delivered a baby early than women with "low stable" blood pressure.

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What's alarming is that more than 38% of the "moderate increasing" group developed coronary artery calcifications (a marker for higher risk of future heart attack), seen on CT heart scans, compared with 12.2% of the "low stable" group.

Women who had both a preterm delivery and "moderate increasing" blood pressure had more than double the risk of developing arterial calcifications, compared with women who delivered at term and had a lower blood pressure pattern.

The associations were stronger in women who experienced high blood pressure conditions during pregnancy, but were also found in women who did not. However women who had a “moderate increasing” blood pressure pattern but delivered a full-term baby didn’t seem to have excess risk for artery calcifications.

The study found that a preterm birth alone wasn’t enough to raise heart risks.

Having a preterm birth or other pregnancy-related complications doesn’t mean you are doomed to develop cardiovascular disease. Talk to your doctor about your pregnancy history so they’re aware of previous complications, such as gestational diabetes or pre-eclampsia. Dr. Manson also suggests tracking your blood pressure at home, and maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle.

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