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In an unprecedented move, the American Heart Association (AHA) updated its cardiovascular disease prevention guidelines for women to recognize preeclampsia and other pregnancy complications as risk factors for cardiovascular diseases (CVD), such as heart attack and stroke.
According to the AHA's press release: "[W]omen with a history of preeclampsia face double the risk of stroke, heart disease and dangerous clotting in veins during the five to 15 years after pregnancy. Essentially, having pregnancy complications can now be considered equivalent to having failed a stress test."
The updated guidelines are an exciting accomplishment for the Preeclampsia Foundation, which has long advocated for the recognition of preeclampsia as an important risk marker for cardiovascular disease. The Foundation joins a list of more than 20 professional and lay organizations who endorse the report. Executive Director Eleni Tsigas explained: “[The new guidelines] recommend a pregnancy history for all women when assessing cardiovascular risk and count preeclampsia, gestational diabetes and pregnancy induced hypertension as part of the risk scoring. Unfortunately, they do not differentiate early onset and recurrent preeclampsia as being especially high risk. Nonetheless, it is encouraging to see that healthcare providers are being asked to include pregnancy history as an important and relevant part of a patient’s medical history.”
As “at risk” individuals, preeclampsia survivors should educate themselves about cardiovascular disease and available mechanisms for risk reduction. Stop smoking, improve your diet, and exercise regularly. Most importantly, always talk to your healthcare provider about your pregnancy history and how you can work together to reduce your risk for future heart disease.
Additional information and recommendations for preeclampsia survivors can be found in the American Heart Association News Release and the Preeclampsia Foundation’s "Preeclampsia and Heart Disease" article.
Original article written February 2011; updated February 2014.