High blood pressure can occur during pregnancy. When it occurs in combination with certain complications including kidney damage, it is called preeclampsia, which occurs in up to 7 percent of all pregnancies in the United States. It appears to be on the rise, as more and more women become pregnant after age 35. It usually occurs during the third trimester and if left untreated, can progress into a life-threatening condition called eclampsia. Preeclampsia is a dangerous condition in which a pregnant woman develops high blood pressure and protein in the urine. Delivering the baby is the only known cure. Symptoms typically resolve within six weeks after delivery, contributing to a perception among care providers and patients that further medical monitoring is unnecessary.
However, one of the long-term risks for women with preeclampsia includes increased risk of developing heart disease later in life. A recent study that will be presented in the upcoming American College of Cardiology meeting in March, 2018 showed that women diagnosed with preeclampsia during pregnancy were significantly more likely to develop high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol during the five years of follow up after pregnancy. They analyzed the health records of more than 650 women treated at Allegheny Health Network between 2009 and 2015. Half had been diagnosed with preeclampsia and half were women of similar age who had never been diagnosed with preeclampsia (controls). After 5 years of follow-up, women who had suffered from preeclampsia had a higher incidence of new-onset diabetes (21% vs 0%), hypertension (32.8% vs 0.3%) and hyperlipidemia (3% vs 0%).
Previous studies have also found increased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and heart failure later in life. These findings warrant continued follow up with a cardiologist or primary care doctor after pregnancy to ensure appropriate management. However, this study found that only a few women were followed up for cardiovascular prevention in the outpatient setting.
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