Harvard Heart Letter

Pregnancy complications may herald heart disease after menopause

Underlying circulatory problems may be a common thread.

A pregnancy loss invariably raises a woman's concerns about her reproductive health. However, other pregnancy problems, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, may also provide an early warning of future heart disease. "Pregnancy affects your heart and cardiovascular system, and gestational problems can be an indicator of how well your system deals with stress," says Dr. Malissa Wood, co-director of the Corrigan Women's Heart Health Program at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

Problems with blood supply

A successful pregnancy hinges upon the mother's body delivering a robust supply of blood and nutrients to the developing fetus. However, defects in the small blood vessels of the uterus can inhibit blood flow. "If the mother's blood supply to the placenta is disrupted, the fetus can die, causing miscarriage or stillbirth," says Dr. Wood. Women who have had these losses may have a 20% to 25% higher chance of heart disease after menopause.

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