Do pregnancy complications indicate future heart disease?


First, the bad news: About every 80 seconds, cardiovascular disease takes a woman’s life. The good news? Nearly 80 percent of women’s cardiac and stroke events may be prevented with education and action, according to the American Heart Association.

By now, you probably know the signs of heart disease in women:

  • Nausea or lightheadedness
  • Pain or discomfort in your jaw, stomach, back, neck, or arms
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness, fullness, or pressure that causes pain in the middle of your chest that goes on for more than a few minutes or goes away but then comes back

But did you know that a complicated pregnancy can also be a warning sign you’re at risk?

Studies in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Clinical Cardiology and the Lancet—all well-established medical publications—detail how complications that arise during pregnancy may indicate you’ll have cardiovascular disease in the future.

“Pregnancy doesn’t cause the heart disease. If the condition is there, pregnancy can bring it to the forefront."

“Pregnancy doesn’t cause the heart disease. If the condition is there, pregnancy can bring it to the forefront,” said Dr. Tanya Sorensen, a maternal fetal medicine specialist at Swedish.

Am I at risk?

Education is the first step in protecting yourself from heart disease and stroke, according to Dr. Sorensen. If you experience any of the following complications in your pregnancy, be aware of the threat to your future health and get the care you need.

Preeclampsia is a sudden rise in your blood pressure that typically happens during your last trimester of pregnancy. It can damage your liver, kidneys, blood, and brain. In severe cases, if left untreated, preeclampsia causes serious, if not fatal, complications for both you and your unborn baby. The cause of preeclampsia is unknown.

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that develops during your pregnancy when your blood sugar level is too high and your body can’t make the insulin you need to control it. Gestational diabetes can result in a larger than average baby and an increased chance of Cesarean delivery.

Small for gestational age means that your baby’s birth weight is in the bottom 10 percent when adjusted for how old he or she was at birth. It can result in low blood sugar and body temperature for your baby. The clock counting down gestational age starts on the first day of your last menstrual period.

Preterm delivery is when your baby is born between weeks 20 through 36. Babies who are born too early may not have a chance to fully develop and may have trouble eating, breathing and keeping warm. The greatest health risks occur if your baby is born before week 34 of your pregnancy.

Placental syndromes happen when your placenta—the organ responsible for nourishing your baby—grows too low or too deeply in your uterus. It can also occur if your placenta detaches from your uterus before you give birth. Placental syndromes can cause excessive blood loss and a high-risk delivery.

What now?

The phrase, “knowledge is power” truly applies in this case. If you have complications during pregnancy, it does not necessarily mean you’ll have heart problems, but it does mean you should be aware of your added risk and take steps to protect your health.

“Don’t wait for symptoms. Let your primary care doctor know right from the start that you could be at risk due to conditions during pregnancy.”

“Don’t wait for symptoms,” said Dr. Sorensen. “Let your primary care doctor know right from the start that you could be at risk due to conditions during pregnancy.”

Find a doctor

The team of experts at Swedish have the training and expertise to handle all of your health needs. We offer compassionate, advanced care for every stage of your life. Find a doctor you can trust in our provider directory.

Related resources

The 5 Most Common Misconceptions About Pregnancy

Ask a midwife: Could preeclampsia affect your pregnancy?

Atrial Fibrillation Awareness

4 surprising signs you may have heart disease

About the Author

The Swedish Heart & Vascular Team is committed to bringing you many years of expertise and experience to help you understand how to prevent, treat and recover from cardiovascular diseases and conditions. From tips to eating better to exercise and everything in between, our clinical experts know how to help you help your heart.

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