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Hypertension in pregnancy linked to heart disease

DALLAS (Reuters) - Women who experience high blood pressure while pregnant are more likely to develop a coronary-related heart problem later in life than other women, researchers said on Monday.

"Usually it is assumed that development of high blood pressure during pregnancy has no long-term consequences since it subsides after pregnancy," said Dr. Michiel L. Bots, the senior author of the study and an associate professor of epidemiology at the Julius Center for Health Sciences and Primary Care in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

The study found that women who had high blood pressure while they were pregnant had a 57 percent greater risk of developing coronary calcification later in life than women who had normal blood pressure levels during pregnancy.

Coronary calcification is a calcium buildup in the vessels of the heart, according to the
American Heart Association.

It is associated with atherosclerosis, the process by which fatty substances, cholesterol, calcium and other substances build up in the inner lining of an artery.

Researchers looked at 491 healthy post-menopausal women who were selected from among participants enrolled from 1993-1997 in a study called PROSPECT, one of two Dutch groups involved in a wider European health survey.

The researchers measured coronary artery calcium in the women in 2004 and 2005 and asked them about their blood pressure during pregnancy. Almost 31 percent of the women surveyed said they had had high blood pressure while pregnant.

Researchers cautioned that further work needs to be done to more firmly establish this link and the reasons behind it.

The sample size for the study was small and the participants were asked to recall blood pressure changes during pregnancy many years after the fact, so the data may not have been completely accurate.

Bots said in a statement that women who "develop high blood pressure during pregnancy may need to be referred to a program that includes cardiovascular risk factor management and be closely monitored for increases in blood pressure, cholesterol and weight."

A return of high blood pressure and the development of diabetes were seen as other possible risks for women who had elevated blood pressure levels while pregnant.

The study is published this week in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association.