June 6, 2024

Pregnancy complications can lead to mothers’ lifelong risk of cardiovascular disease

Pregnancy complications can lead to mothers’ lifelong risk of cardiovascular disease

(photo: Willam Au)

Pregnant women who develop a common complication called pre-eclampsia are twice as likely to develop heart problems later in life. Now a University of Alberta postdoctoral fellow is working to understand why and to develop prevention strategies.

Amanda de Oliveira, a researcher in Sandra Davidge’s lab in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, has won a prestigious Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship to carry out the research, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Her project will focus on how pre-eclampsia in pregnant women increases their risk of cardiovascular complications, such as high blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke later in life.

Pre-eclampsia occurs during or shortly after pregnancy and is characterized by persistent high blood pressure, protein in the urine and organ damage. It affects five to eight per cent of all pregnancies and is a major risk factor for severe illness and death among pregnant women and their babies.

The risks don’t end with pregnancy, however. Having pre-eclampsia doubles a woman’s risk for cardiovascular problems later in life, including a four times higher risk of having hypertension than in women who did not have pre-eclampsia. There is also evidence that the children of pre-eclamptic mothers are at higher risk of cardiovascular issues.

All pregnant women have higher levels of cholesterol, which is necessary to support production of important hormones and fetal development. But in a subset of women, cholesterol levels are excessively high, leading to pre-eclampsia. de Oliveira is looking at the processes underway in the blood vessels of mothers with the condition, both during and after pregnancy. Her pre-clinical research involves feeding pregnant rats a diet abnormally high in cholesterol to mimic the condition in women.

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