Pre-eclampsia and the Long-term Health Implications for the Mother

Preeclampsia can leave a lasting impact on your health even after pregnancy.

Previously, the view was that once the baby was delivered, pre-eclampsia resolves and generally there were no long-term effects for the mother.  However, recent literature suggests that this is not true.  Although more research is needed, to fully understand these consequences, it is recognized that pre-eclampsia may put women at risk of other health complications much later on in life.

What is pre-eclampsia?

Pre-eclampsia is a pregnancy related disorder.  High blood pressure and high levels of protein in the urine come with it.  Pre-eclampsia can lead to severe complications for both the mother and the baby.

How can pre-eclampsia affect a mother’s health after pregnancy?  What are the long-term effects?

Preeclampsia can leave a lasting impact on a women’s health even after pregnancy.  Women who had preeclampsia are at an increased risk of developing certain medical conditions later in life.

Women are at increased risk of chronic hypertension, diabetes mellitus, ischemic heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, stroke, kidney disease, thromboembolism, hypothyroidism, damage to the small blood vessels in the eye by middle age, and even impaired memory or sleep apnoea.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women.  It is increasing in women aged 35 to 54 years.  Women who had pre-eclampsia have approximately double the risk for heart disease and stroke over their next 5 to 15 years.  This risk increases if pre-eclampsia occurred in more than one pregnancy or if the baby was small at birth.  For some women the stress of pregnancy on the body can possibly expose underlying health issues.

What can be done to address long-term risks associated with pre-eclampsia?

Women who had pre-eclampsia can enjoy a healthy life following their pregnancy.  What is important is to prioritize health long-term, to be more aware of the risk for disease later on in life and to maintain regular medical appointments.

Stay healthy postpartum and focus on reducing the risks associated with developing heart disease and lower the risk for other health issues.  For example:

  • Pay close attention to cardiovascular health, whether it is through lifestyle modifications such as: diet, exercise, or tighter control of lipid profiles.
  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle by eating a balanced diet, engaging in regular physical activity and managing stress. Reduce salt intake, avoid smoking and excessive caffeine, and maintain a healthy weight to support heart health and reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular and other health problems.
  • Be aware that patients who had pre-eclampsia during pregnancy has a higher incidence in their next pregnancy to develop pre-eclampsia, particularly if the event occurred in the pre-term period. In women at risk of pre-eclampsia, vigilance during the pre-natal period and preventative management such as the use of aspirin are important.
  • Continue to schedule regular check-ups with your health care provider after childbirth to monitor both your blood pressure and overall health.
  • Know your numbers. Track your blood pressure, lipid profile, blood glucose, weight, screen your kidney and liver function.  Know what are “healthy” numbers and when your numbers are not in-line.

If you have other risk factors in addition to your history of pre-eclampsia, these steps are even more important.  Heart disease takes years to develop and making better choices today can impact your health today and in the future.