Study: Giving birth raises woman’s risk of heart disease, stroke

WUHAN, China — When one stops to consider the potential dangers of child birth for the mother, the actual event is usually what comes to mind. However, a recent study concludes that giving birth is also associated with a 14% higher risk of suffering a stroke or developing heart disease later on in life compared to women who haven’t had any children.

Previous research has long shown that the mother’s heart works harder during pregnancy to meet the needs of both mother and unborn child. That being said, the influence of pregnancy on the mother potentially developing heart disease years down the line has been a controversial subject.

So, in order to investigate the matter, researchers at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China collected data from other various other studies and conducted a meta-analysis. In all, ten studies were included, involving 3,089,929 women. Among that group, 150,512 developed heart disease or suffered stroke during an average follow-up period of six to 52 years.

“The mechanisms underlying the associations we observed are complex,” says study author Dr. Dongming Wang in a media release. “Pregnancy may lead to inflammation in the body, and the accumulation of fat around the abdomen, in the blood, and in the arteries. These changes could have permanent effects on the cardiovascular system, leading to a higher risk of heart and stroke later in life.”

Overall, the analysis did in fact illustrate a significant association between giving birth at least once and subsequent development of cardiovascular disease. Statistically, women who had given birth had a 14% higher chance of developing heart disease or suffering a stroke.

Additionally, the research team looked into the relationship between number of births and risk of cardiovascular disease. They found that each additional child a woman gave birth to resulted in a 4% higher likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease independent of body mass index, diabetes, hypertension, smoking, and income level. These relationships were similar among different types of cardiovascular disease, with each birth being associated with a 5% higher risk of coronary heart disease and a 3% higher risk of stroke.

“Doctors have a role to play here,” says Dr. Wang. “Women should know that having children may raise their chance of future heart disease or stroke, and that more pregnancies could be increasingly risky. The good news is that there is a lot that women can do to prevent cardiovascular disease.”

“Pregnancy is a good time to get rid of bad lifestyle habits,” Dr. Wang concludes. “So quit smoking, exercise regularly, eat healthy food, and keep weight gain under control. Keep these habits after pregnancy, get more exercise to reduce abdominal fat, and watch the fat content in your diet to keep blood lipids at a healthy level.”

The study is published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology.

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