November 6, 2008

Pre-Eclampsia a Sign of Heart Risk Later

High blood pressure during pregnancy could be a woman's earliest warning that she is at risk of developing heart disease, Canadian researchers said.

Graeme Smith of Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, said this type of high blood pressure -- pre-eclampsia -- occurs in 5 percent to 10 percent of all pregnancies.

However, most physicians are unaware of the connection between pre-eclampsia and the risk for future cardiovascular problems and fail to follow up with screening tests, Smith said.

"This should be on every obstetrician's and family doctor's radar screen," Smith, an expert in high-risk obstetrics at Kingston General Hospital's Perinatal Research Unit, said in a statement. "What's exciting for our research team is that we're mostly dealing with young, healthy women who now have the opportunity to protect themselves from developing a life-threatening condition years down the road."

The study, which began five years ago, tracked 400 Ontario women, half of whom developed pre-eclampsia during their pregnancy. When screened a year after delivery, the women with pre-eclampsia showed underlying cardiovascular risk factors of elevated blood pressure and lipids, or fats, at a rate that was two to three times greater than the control group.

The findings are published online in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.