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Pregnancy Complications Amplify Heart Disease Risk in Obese Individuals, Reveals Groundbreaking Study

Pregnancy Complications Amplify Heart Disease Risk in Obese Individuals, Reveals Groundbreaking Study

Obesity during early pregnancy is strongly associated with future cardiovascular disease and adverse pregnancy outcomes such as high blood pressure, preeclampsia, and gestational diabetes. However, these complications account for only a small percentage of increased cardiovascular disease risks in the years following pregnancy for people with obesity.

According to a recent study supported by the National Institutes of Health, obesity during early pregnancy is a significant predictor of future cardiovascular disease. The study, published in Circulation Research, highlights the long-recognized link between obesity and cardiovascular disease, as well as pregnancy complications caused by high blood pressure.

The researchers aimed to determine which factors influenced a person’s cardiovascular disease risk years after pregnancy – obesity or pregnancy problems. While adverse pregnancy outcomes were found to be associated with increased cardiovascular disease risks during pregnancy, these complications only accounted for a small percentage of the heightened risks in the years following pregnancy for individuals with obesity.

“We’re finding that certain pregnancy complications are unmasking and then increasing cardiovascular disease risks, such as obesity, that were already present. This study provides insight into potential timing for interventions for people with overweight or obesity who are thinking about pregnancy,” explained Victoria L Pemberton, RNC, a study author and researcher in the Division of Cardiovascular Sciences at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of NIH.

The study analyzed data from the nuMoM2b Heart Health Study, which included over 4,200 first-time mothers, approximately half of whom were overweight or obese. The participants’ pregnancy experiences were compared to their health two to seven years later. The researchers found that mothers who were overweight or had obesity during the first trimester of pregnancy were about twice as likely to develop gestational diabetes or experience pregnancy complications related to high blood pressure, compared to those with normal body weight. These mothers also had increased risks of developing cardiovascular disease after pregnancy.

In comparison, complications related to high blood pressure during pregnancy explained only 13% of future risks for developing high blood pressure in individuals who were obese. Similarly, gestational diabetes only accounted for 10% of future risks for diabetes.

The findings emphasize the importance of prioritizing heart health, especially during pregnancy and the pre-pregnancy period. “We want to do everything we can to support a person’s heart health, but especially around the time of pregnancy – before, during, and in early pregnancy,” said Sadiya S Khan, MD, the study’s lead investigator and a preventive cardiologist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

While some complications were found to be unaffected by body weight, such as preterm birth or low birth weight, researchers discovered that individuals who experienced preterm births had increased risks of high blood pressure, high blood sugar, or high cholesterol a few years after pregnancy. However, having a baby with a low birth weight did not increase these risks.

To improve cardiovascular health and prevent adverse pregnancy outcomes, the researchers emphasize the need to focus on the pre-pregnancy and early pregnancy period. By achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight, monitoring heart health numbers, and staying physically active, individuals can take proactive steps to support their cardiovascular health during this critical time.

In conclusion, the study highlights the strong association between obesity during early pregnancy and future cardiovascular disease. While adverse pregnancy outcomes contribute to increased risks, they only account for a small percentage of the heightened cardiovascular disease risks in individuals with obesity after pregnancy. To make a significant difference in improving cardiovascular health and preventing these outcomes, interventions should be focused on the pre-pregnancy and early pregnancy period.

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