Pregnancy complications increase and unmask short- and long-term cardiovascular risk for people with obesity

Oct. 11, 2023
NIH-supported research provides broader understanding of how cardiovascular disease risk manifests following pregnancy.

Having obesity before and during early pregnancy appears to be a strong indicator of risk for developing future cardiovascular disease and was significantly linked with adverse outcomes during pregnancy such as high blood pressure, preeclampsia, and gestational diabetes, according to a study published in Circulation Research that was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

While having adverse pregnancy outcomes was linked with increased cardiovascular disease risks during pregnancy, the complications accounted for a small percentage of increased cardiovascular disease risks in the years following pregnancy for people with obesity.

The researchers analyzed data collected from the nuMoM2b Heart Health Study of more than 4,200 first-time mothers – about half of whom had been overweight or were obese. They compared the participants’ pregnancy experience to their health two to seven years later. They found mothers who were overweight or had obesity during the first trimester of pregnancy had about twice the risk for developing gestational diabetes or having a pregnancy complicated by high blood pressure, compared to participants with a normal body weight. These mothers also had increased risks for developing cardiovascular disease risks after pregnancy.

In comparison, pregnancies complicated by high blood pressure explained just 13% of future risks for developing high blood pressure if a person had obesity. Likewise, gestational diabetes explained only 10% of future risks for diabetes.

For some complications the researchers found body weight did not factor into risks. For example, people with overweight or obesity did not have increased risks for having a preterm birth or a baby with a low birthweight. Additionally, researchers found among all participants, those experiencing preterm births had increased risks for having high blood pressure, high blood sugar, or high cholesterol a few years after pregnancy. Having a baby born with a low birthweight wasn’t found to increase risks. 

NIH release

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