The things that affect a woman's reproductive health can also have an effect on her heart, new research shows.
Giving birth prematurely or delivering a small-for-gestational-age baby are both associated with a later risk of cardiovascular disease in the mother, according to two studies expected to be presented Friday at an American Heart Association meeting in Palm Harbor, Fla.
A third study found that when women's ovaries were removed and the estrogen wasn't replaced through hormone therapy, a woman's overall risk of dying increased, as did her risk of dying of heart disease or stroke.
The first study looked for associations between gestational size, the timing of the birth and the risk of cardiovascular disease in more than one million Swedish women who'd given birth to their first baby after 1973. Only women who had singleton pregnancies were included in the analysis.
The researchers followed-up with the women for an average of 16 years, but for as long as 33 years.
They found that women who'd had a small-for-gestational-age baby or a preterm baby had a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, and that women who'd had both a small and preterm baby had a two to three times higher risk of cardiovascular disease later in life.
Dr. Erik Ingelsson, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Karolinska Institute, said that the increased risk appears to be lifelong.
"It seems like having a premature or small-for-gestational birth infant is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and thus, it is even more important to pay attention to the risk factors that you can affect, i.e., smoking cessation, eat healthy and avoid overweight and exercise more," said Ingelsson.
A second study, this one done with data from almost 435,000 births in Denmark, came to a similar conclusion. In this study, the births occurred from 1973 to 1983, and the later data on the moms came from medical records from 1977 to 2006.
More than 27,000 of the women had at least one preterm birth, and there were nearly 41,000 cases of cardiovascular disease in the whole study population.