Pregnancy-related high blood pressure, diabetes linked to later heart disease

Howard LeWine, M.D.

Chief Medical Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

Most of the changes that come with pregnancy—growing a belly “bump,” being tired, mood swings, cravings for particular foods, and the like—are normal, temporary, and harmless. Two other changes, pregnancy-related high blood pressure and diabetes, may have long-lasting implications for heart health.

The development of high blood pressure during pregnancy is known as preeclampsia; pregnancy-related diabetes is called gestational diabetes. They are different from “regular” high blood pressure and diabetes because both are “cured” by delivery. Yet a new study published this week in the journal Circulation suggests that these complications boost a woman’s risk of cardiovascular disease during middle age.

Researchers looked at the pregnancies of more than 3,400 women enrolled in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children in the early 1990s and followed their health for nearly 20 years. By age 50, the 10-year risk for heart disease was 31% higher for women who developed preeclampsia during their pregnancies than women who didn’t. Those who developed gestational diabetes had a 26% higher 10-year risk.

Preeclampsia and gestational diabetes also affected the women’s babies. Women with preeclampsia were more likely to give birth to underweight babies and deliver prematurely. Women with gestational diabetes were more likely to deliver overweight babies.

Preventing problems before and after

The findings from the Avon Longitudinal Study suggest that pregnancy may be a kind of months-long “test” of the heart and other systems. Preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and other pregnancy-related complications could be early signs of some underlying problem that eventually leads to heart disease.

Can these problems be avoided? Sometimes. Women who are not yet pregnant can help prevent them from occurring by aiming for a healthy weight, exercising, and adopting a healthy diet before getting pregnant. During pregnancy, being careful about weight gain, exercising, and eating well are even more important. That said, some women who are meticulous about all those things still develop preeclampsia or gestational diabetes.

If you developed preeclampsia or gestational diabetes during pregnancy, it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor about tracking your blood pressure and blood sugar more carefully as you get older. You might need to pay more close attention to them than someone who sailed through  pregnancy without either of these complications. And keeping your blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, and other cardiac risk factors under control may be especially important for you.


  1. Heather

    This is such an important post. Pre-natal care is so important and also knowing what symptoms to recognize.

  2. Anonymous

    What is the solution if the woman just has already
    known that she has a diabetes when she has already conceive a baby?

  3. How To Control Diabetes Type 2

    Many women suffer from diabetes. The number one cause of women having diabetes is because of obesity but there are many other signs of diabetes in women. However, that is not the only cause as to why women might have diabetes. Thanks to a lot of studies and research women can be on a look out for the signs of diabetes in women so that way they’ll be able to talk with their doctor if the signs start to appear. Obesity makes the body prone with getting a variety of diseases such as diabetes. The reason why is because most people who might be obese tend to indulge with having either junk food or soft drinks. Another thing to remember is people who are skinny can still suffer with diabetes. That is why knowing the signs is vital to your health. Listed below are some of the signs of diabetes in women.

    The signs of diabetes in women include but not limited to:

    Most women find that they struggle with being tired throughout the day. The energy is always low and they always have a hard time with feeling or being awake. This can cause many problems and might even cause them to have problems with concentration.
    Having to urinate a lot is often associated with diabet es. It can seem like you’re using the bathroom every few minutes and even at night, this can happen.
    Dry skin
    Women might become prone with getting more infections.
    Some women might struggle with either a big amount of either weight loss or gain. This is a very common for signs of diabetes in women.
    There are times when women might actually vomit if they have diabetes.
    Increase or decrease with appetite and this is also one of those signs of diabetes in women considered to be common and known.
    Vision might become blurr
    When signs of diabetes in women start to develop or appear, talking with the doctor as soon as possible is vital because if a woman puts off seeing the doctor and being tested for diabetes it could cause problems. Another thing to remember is that putting off seeing the doctor might also be putting your body at risk for developing infections that might be caused from the diabetes. The doctor will be able to confirm if a woman is diabetic with tests and with also listening to her symptoms. After a woman is diagnosed with diabetes then treatment often begins almost right away and that’s another reason as to why women should know the signs of diabetes.

    Doctors can answer questions that a woman might have in regards to diabetes

  4. How To Control Diabetes Type 2

    I had gestational diabetes with both my last pregnancies, ’02 and ’03, I had to prick my finger 4 times a day and give or have someone give me an insulin injection three times a day. With my pregnancies, they just kept a closer check on you and monitor the babies heart moreso and they did a lot more ultrasounds cause with babies of diabetic moms tend to be heavier at birth. My oldest was born with low blood sugar due to my injections.

  5. Shine

    You really need to eat right and still be active even when you are pregnant.

  6. Anita

    Interesting article actually. Wouldn’t of known that high blood pressure during pregnancy could lead to that.

  7. John Judge


    Loved this article, nice informative information, but doesn’t diabetes type 2 also lead to urinary infections?
    Best regards…john!

  8. Janna Zwerner

    Development of gestational diabetes also greatly increases the chances of the mother AND baby developing diabetes later in life. See CDCs work on this topic.

  9. Katie Thompson

    Are there any ways to tell ahead of time if one has a predisposition to preeclampsia?

    • P.J. Skerrett

      Katie —

      Several things have been linked with developing preeclampsia. Keep in mind that these apply to women in general—it’s hard to predict if an individual will develop preeclampsia. Here are some factors that increase the risk:

      • Having had preeclampsia before, or having a mother or sister who developed it.
      • Obesity.
      • Carrying twins, triplets, or other multiples.
      • A long interval between pregnancies.
      • Having diabetes or developing gestational diabetes.
      • Pre-pregnancy high blood pressure, migraine, kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, or lupus.

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