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Can Preeclampsia Affect Your Long-Term Heart Health?

March 24, 2024

Preeclampsia, a serious blood pressure condition that occurs during pregnancy, affects about one in every 25 pregnancies.

But is preeclampsia just an issue during pregnancy, or will it impact your heart health down the road? We asked an expert.

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Preeclampsia is diagnosed during your pre-natal check-ups with your doctor.

Preeclampsia is something your doctor checks for regularly throughout your pregnancy.

It’s generally diagnosed when you have high blood pressure and protein in your urine. Other symptoms can include:

  • Sudden swelling or weight gain
  • Severe headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea
  • Breathing difficulties

In severe cases, preeclampsia may cause seizures, called eclampsia, a medical emergency.

Preeclampsia is one of a few blood pressure disorders that can occur during pregnancy.

Preeclampsia is one of a few hypertensive disorders of pregnancy (HDP) that can affect women. Others include:

  • Chronic hypertension, which occurs when you have high blood pressure prior to your pregnancy, or are diagnosed in the first 20 weeks
  • Gestational hypertension, which is diagnosed after the first 20 weeks and usually improves after delivery

> Related: What You Should Know About Eclampsia After Olympian Torie Bowie’s Death

Preeclampsia can permanently affect your heart health and circulatory system.

Preeclampsia generally improves after delivery or with appropriate treatment. But it may have a long-term impact on your heart health.

“Preeclampsia’s development may lead to irreversible changes within the maternal heart and circulatory system, resulting in a long-term increased risk of cardiovascular disease,” says Melissa Ferraro-Borgida, MD, director of cardio-obstetrics for Hartford HealthCare.

“HDP have been linked to a significant increase in the risk of stroke, coronary artery disease, heart rhythm abnormalities and congestive heart failure later in life.”

Follow-up care with your doctor is crucial.

If you have preeclampsia, it’s important to work closely with your doctor or cardiologist to manage any potential risk.

“After a pregnancy complicated by preeclampsia, it’s important to establish early follow-up care to manage your blood pressure and work with a provider on long-term cardiovascular risk management,” explains Dr. Ferraro-Borgida.

Aggressive treatment of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes will help reduce a woman’s future cardiovascular risks, Dr. Ferraro-Borgida adds.

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There are ways to prevent preeclampsia.

Any woman can develop preeclampsia, even if they don’t have risk factors. But the best way to reduce your chances is to live a healthy lifestyle.

Dr. Ferraro-Borgida recommends:

  • 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week
  • Avoiding sedentary behavior
  • Following a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole grains and fish
  • Avoiding saturated fats, sodium and processed foods
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight
  • Avoiding smoking and vaping
  • Managing emotional stress

Women with a preeclampsia history or cardiovascular risk factors may be prescribed baby aspirin in future pregnancies.