Heart disease risk linked to moms' preeclampsia

Study found offspring had a 29 per cent increased risk of heart disease and 33 per cent increased risk of stroke.

Dave Yasvinski 3 minute read June 1, 2021
high blood pressure pregnant

New research links a pregnant mother's hypertension to future risks for her child. Getty

Your chances of suffering a stroke or heart disease may be decades in the making, according to a new study that found women who experienced high blood pressure or preeclampsia during pregnancy had children with a heightened risk of future problems.

The research, presented this week at an international conference of the European Society of Cardiology, highlights the influence a mother’s health has on her children long after childbirth.

“Our findings indicate that hypertensive disorders during pregnancy are associated with increased risks of stroke and potentially heart disease in offspring up to the age of 41 years,” said Fen Yang, the author of the study and a PhD student at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. “Studies with longer follow-up are needed to confirm the results and improve understanding of the possible underlying mechanisms.”

Maternal hypertension disorders — a blanket term that encompasses pre-existing and gestational hypertension and preeclampsia — affect around seven per cent of all pregnancies in Canada. They are a significant source of maternal and perinatal morbidity and mortality that requires effective management to counter potential complications. Hypertensive disorders have been previously linked to increased risks to offspring — including premature birth and future obesity and diabetes — but researchers hoped to get a handle on the role, if any, they play in ischemic heart disease and stroke

The observational study followed live singleton births (a single child born after at least 20 weeks of gestation) in Sweden and Finland searching for signs of ischemic heart disease and stroke over the course of decades. Hypertensive pregnancy disorders (high blood pressure) and preeclampsia (high blood pressure with evidence of organ damage) were flagged ahead of time.

With the hypothesis that ischemic heart disease and stroke were associated with high blood pressure during pregnancy, researchers controlled for a host of other factors that might influence this relationship, including the year the child was born, sex, congenital anomalies, mother’s age, marital status, education level and family history. They also performed a sibling analysis to control for any unmeasured genetic or environmental familial factors.

From the pool of more than 5.8 million singletons, researchers found 218,322 (or 3.76 per cent) had mothers who had hypertensive disorders during pregnancy. Over a follow-up period of close to 41 years, 2,340 (0.4 per cent) were found to have ischemic heart disease and 5,360 (0.09 per cent) had experienced a stroke.

The findings mean children from mothers with hypertension during pregnancy had a 29 per cent increased risk of heart disease and 33 per cent increased risk of stroke during the course of observation. When researchers factored in the sibling analysis, the associations held for stroke but not heart disease, a sign that other factors might be at play here.


“The sibling analyses suggest that shared genetic or environmental factors were the main contributors to the association between hypertensive pregnancy disorders and the risk of ischemic heart disease,” Yang said. “However, the increased risk of stroke persisted, indicating the possibility of direct intrauterine effects.”

Although, further study is required, Yang said the findings open new avenues for safeguarding the health of pregnant mothers and their children — before and after birth. “This was one of very few studies in this area and more research is needed,” she said. “It was an observational study, and we cannot make any conclusions about causality.

“If our findings are supported by further studies, steps could be taken to prevent cardiovascular disease in offspring exposed to hypertensive pregnancy disorders — for example by focussing on maternal health and screening children for risk factors like high blood pressure early in life.”

Dave Yasvinski is a writer with Healthing.ca


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