What your pregnancy could say about your heart health

March 13, 2014


A new report published in the Journal of the American Heart Association says women who have a history of gestational diabetes during pregnancy may be at an increased risk for developing atherosclerosis later in life. Researchers say this may even be true of women who were not obese and who did not develop diabetes or metabolic syndrome after the birth of their child.

In an article posted on heart.org, lead author Erica P. Gunderson, Ph.D., M.S., M.P.H explains the role pregnancy plays in acting as a window into future heart health. “Pregnancy has been under-recognized as an important time period that can signal a woman’s greater risk for future heart disease,” she says. “This signal is revealed by gestational diabetes, a condition of elevated blood sugar during pregnancy.”

Looking at the thickness of the inner two layers of the carotid artery, researchers say this measurement “strongly predicts” future heart disease and stroke in women.  Gaining weight and increased blood pressure can increase the thickness of the carotid intima media (ITM). This study shows heart disease can develop even before the onset of diabetes or metabolic syndrome – both risk factors for heart disease as well. Therefore, being aware of changes in the thickness of ITM may give health care providers the warning sign to help these at-risk mothers make necessary diet and lifestyle modifications to reduce their risk.

The study followed 898 women who did not have heart disease or diabetes prior to pregnancy. 119 of these women developed gestational diabetes during pregnancy. Over the course of the 20-year study period, 13 women had cardiovascular events. However, of this 13, only one had gestational diabetes previously.

Reduce Your Risk of Developing Heart Disease

There are risk factors for heart disease you can control and change to help protect your heart health. Other risk factors like age, race and family history are not modifiable, but important to know how they affect your risk. Here are some ways you can help reduce your heart disease risk:

Don’t Smoke

Exercise Regularly

Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables and fiber

Manage high cholesterol, blood pressure and triglyceride levels

Avoid Trans Fats

Reduce Stress

During pregnancy, talk to your health care provider about how to modify diet and exercise to make sure you and baby are safe. Remember, good nutrition and health for baby begins during pregnancy.