A new study has found that the risk of cardiovascular diseases in women may depend on the number of kids she gives birth to. The study was presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 63rd Annual Scientific Session.
Dr. Monika Sanghavi is the lead author of the study and chief cardiology fellow at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and says the study finds that women, who gave birth to four or more children, are more likely to show signs of cardiovascular disease. Similar signs were seen in women, who gave birth to only one child or none. Sanghavi says, “The findings of our study prove that the changes associated with pregnancy could provide insight into a woman’s future risk of cardiovascular disease. Pregnancy has been called nature’s stress test for a reason.”
For the study, researchers selected 1,644 women with an average age of 45. More than half of the women were African-American. Researchers measured the coronary artery calcium (CAC) as well as the aortic wall thickness (AWT) by using CT and MRI scans. Women, who gave birth to four or more kids, showed an increased risk of abnormal CAC and AWT, increasing the risk of heart problems.
According to Sanghavi, pregnancy causes changes in the body, increasing the strain on a woman’s cardiovascular system. During pregnancy, more blood is pumped through the heart, causing insulin resistance and cholesterol levels to increase.
To the researchers’ surprise, the study showed not only that the risk of cardiovascular disease depends on the number of kids, but also on whether a woman gives birth to a child at all. Those, who gave birth to only one child or none, showed similar risks as those who gave birth to four or more children. Sanghavi and her colleagues are curious to find out what the underlying cause is, as this was not particularly examined in the study; however, researchers speculate that these women may have had an underlying condition, preventing them from giving birth to a first or second child. Sanghavi says that these underlying conditions may increase the risk of heart problems, as conditions like the polycystic ovarian syndrome increase blood pressure and cholesterol.
The results of the study show that women, who gave birth to two or three children, have less risk of cardiovascular disease than others. Sanghavi says, “While we see that women, who gave two or three births, have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, it should not be treated as a recommendation for the number of children a woman should have in her life.”
Previous studies have shown the association of the several aspects of pregnancy, such as physiological changes, complications and number of pregnancies, but never has a team of researchers studied how pregnancy may affect the future risk of cardiovascular disease. The results of Sanghavi’s study suggest that the effects of a pregnancy last longer than nine months.
In the U.S., women have an average of two to three children. Sanghavi and her colleagues stressed that more research is required to confirm the associations and to find out how the risk of cardiovascular disease may depend on the number of kids.
By Diana Herst