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Health & Pregnancy

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Preeclampsia Ups Heart Disease, Death

More Heart Disease After High-Blood-Pressure Pregnancy Syndrome

Pregnancy as Stress Test continued...

Because many women are young when they give birth, they are at very low risk of having heart disease right away -- even if they have preeclampsia. But pregnancy gives a woman a look into a crystal ball that warns of coming trouble.

"Pregnancy acts as a physical stress test that temporarily draws out her high blood pressure," Williams says. "It goes away after she gives birth. But the woman must not forget she is at risk. If she remembers early enough, she can benefit from lowering her cardiovascular risk."

"Some women fail this cardiovascular and metabolic stress test which is revealing their future, telling them things about themselves they would know," Magee says. "Having preeclampsia increases your risk of long-term problems -- but it gives you the opportunity early in life to prevent those problems."

Williams and colleagues are now trying to learn exactly what it is about preeclampsia that might add to a woman's risk of heart disease. They are also hoping to learn whether aggressive treatment after -- perhaps with cholesterol-lowering statin drugs or blood-pressure-lowering drugs -- might help lower this risk.

For now, both Williams and Magee agree that lifestyle changes -- not drug treatments -- are the best options for women who've had preeclampsia.

"All women should be following a heart-healthy diet and lifestyle. But it is particularly important for these women," Magee says. "Having a baby turns your life upside down anyway, so if you're making changes, why not make all the right changes?"

The Williams/Bellamy study and Magee's editorial appear in the Nov. 2 online edition of the British Medical Journal.

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