Although pregnancy can be a joyous time, it can also be an anxious one — especially when complications arise. But what if these complications not only affect what's going on in the womb, but also the heart?
Current American Heart Association guidelines include pregnancy complications as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease in women. Several studies have linked miscarriage — one of the most common pregnancy complications — to heart disease.
A study recently published in the journal Heart analyzed the medical records of 60,105 women with and without miscarriages from 1950 to 2010. Women who had two miscarriages were nearly twice as likely to be at risk for ischemic heart disease, a condition caused by low blood supply to the heart. Women with three or more miscarriages were more than three times as likely compared to pregnant women who never miscarried.
Miscarriage has also been associated with heart attack. A large European study in 2010 tracked more than 11,500 women, analyzing information about the impact of their diet and lifestyle on disease. All the women had been pregnant at least once, with 25 percent having at least one miscarriage. Those with multiple miscarriages tended also to harbor risk factors for heart attack and stroke. Each miscarriage increased heart attack risk by 40 percent.
Making the connection
So, why are miscarriage and heart disease linked? According to Dr. Sharon Sadeghinia, a cardiologist affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital, both share common risk factors, such as obesity and smoking. Moreover, there are shared physical characteristics between cardiovascular disease and pregnancy complications.
"Dysfunction within the inner lining of blood vessels have been observed in women who have had heart attacks," says Dr. Sadeghinia. "Such dysfunction has also been thought to be linked to a greater chance of developing pregnancy complications, such as pre-eclampsia and miscarriage. Given these similarities, miscarriage may be considered an early sign of future cardiovascular disease."
Prevention is the best strategy
With or without pregnancy complications, Dr. Sadeghinia advises prevention as the best strategy in protecting against cardiovascular disease.
"For instance, more than 90 percent of risks for ischemic heart disease or stroke are preventable," says Dr. Sadeghinia. "These risk factors are the same that exist for miscarriage, and they include smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes."
Exercise is one way to protect against heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per week.
"It's also important to work with your doctor or a nutritionist to develop and follow a healthy eating plan," adds Dr. Sadeghinia. "And if you're pregnant, maintain close follow-up with your doctor during and after pregnancy."