Nov. 26, 2001 -- A common problem experienced during pregnancy -- called "pre-eclampsia" -- may be a sign of serious things to come. A new study published in the British Medical Journal shows that women who have this problem are more likely to develop heart disease down the road.
Pre-eclampsia occurs in about 3% to 5% of pregnancies. Women with this problem have high blood pressure and protein in their urine. Pre-eclampsia can kill both the mother and unborn child if not treated. Since delivery almost always resolves the condition, doctors often deliver the child early.
Doctors have suspected that certain genes can increase the chance of pre-eclampsia. Previous studies have shown this problem occurs more frequently in sisters or mothers and daughters. Studies have also linked fathers to a potential cause for pre-eclampsia.
Because the high blood pressure in pre-eclampsia is caused by a narrowing of blood vessels, researchers conducting this study wanted to see if there might be some link to future blood vessel problems, such as heart disease.
The scientists from Norway looked at mothers and fathers of over 625,000 births. They compared pregnancies with pre-eclampsia and early deliveries to normal pregnancies where the child was born full-term.
They found that women who suffered from pre-eclampsia were more than eight times as likely to die from heart disease. This suggests that a similar genetic factor might be the cause behind pre-eclampsia and heart disease.
The researchers did not find any such relationship between fathers of the pre-eclampsia pregnancies and heart disease.
The researchers say these findings offer support that pre-eclampsia is due to genetic factors in the mother. But this study does not prove this for sure, they add.
Although we don't know anything you can do to prevent pre-eclampsia, we do know a lot about preventing heart disease. One possible implication of this study might be to help us pinpoint women who are more likely to experience heart disease in the future.
If researchers do confirm that women with pre-eclampsia are more likely to develop heart disease later in life, this might be a call for these women to be extra vigilant about managing their lifestyle.