Pregnancy at an Older Age Can Increase Risk of Stroke and Heart Attack

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Obesity is a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which includes heart attack and stroke, and obesity during pregnancy can result in a number of risks and complications.

Adding to these known risks, a new study has revealed another risk factor for cardiovascular disease: getting pregnant at an older age.

Pregnancy at Age 40 or Older Associated With Later Risk

In a study presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2016 in Los Angeles, California, researchers unveiled findings that becoming pregnant at the age of 40 or older is linked to a greater risk of stroke and heart attack years later.

As more women are having children later in life, this finding is especially significant.

The researchers looked at data collected from over 70,000 women between the ages of 50 and 79 who were enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative. They analyzed in particular the women who had reported pregnancies at a later age, and compared their rates of cardiovascular events (i.e., heart attack, stroke and death due to cardiovascular disease) with the rates seen in women who had become pregnant at a younger age.

Compared to women who became pregnant at a younger age, those who became pregnant at the age of 40 or older had an increased risk of heart attack, ischemic stroke (due to a clot), hemorrhagic stroke (due to a bleed in the brain), and death from cardiovascular causes.

Why the Higher Risk?

When the researchers examined whether or not traditional, well-known risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, were present, they found that, yes, indeed, these factors were often present and could explain most of the higher risk seen in older pregnant women.

But these traditional risk factors do not explain the higher risk of hemorrhagic stroke, or bleeding in the brain, which, according to the American Heart Association’s 2015 Statistical Update, accounts for approximately 13% of all strokes. The study authors noted that this link requires further investigation.

Implications for Later Pregnancy

This study represents significant findings and may impact the age at which women choose to become pregnant. Age at pregnancy (particularly, the age a woman was during her last pregnancy) has not before been considered to be a risk factor for later cardiovascular disease. These study findings appear to change that.

Knowing this, physicians with patients who have had pregnancies later in life can be more vigilant about monitoring these patients for cardiovascular disease, and help reduce other known modifiable cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, smoking and sedentary lifestyle to try to prevent cardiovascular disease whenever possible.

Sources:

American Heart Association News. Pregnancy in older age increases stroke, heart attack risk years later. Accessible online at http://blog.heart.org/pregnancy-in-older-age-increases-stroke-heart-attack-risk-years-later/

Mozaffarian D, Benjamin EJ, Go AS, Arnett DK, et al. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2015 update: a report from the American Heart Association. Circulation 2015;131:e29-e322).

American Heart Association. Statistical Fact Sheet: Women & Cardiovascular Diseases. Accessible online at https://my.americanheart.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@sop/@smd/documents/downloadable/ucm_319576.pdf.

Goff DC, Lloyd-Jones DM, Bennett G, et al. 2013 ACC/AHA guideline on the assessment of cardiovascular risk: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation 2014;129:549-573.

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