Pregnancy losses lead to increased risk of cardiovascular disease

The associations between parity and cardiovascular outcomes, including breastfeeding adjustment.


Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among women in every major developed country and most emerging economies. Approximately 28,000 women die from heart attacks each year in the UK. In 2016 alone, 20,000 women died after having a stroke – a higher number than that in men.

During pregnancy, the mother’s body experiences changes during pregnancy including weight gain and accumulation of abdominal fat, higher levels of cholesterol, increased insulin resistance, and changes in the structure of the heart.

However, most changes are temporary, but also warning signs of cardiovascular disease.

In a recent study by the University of Cambridge and the University of North Carolina, scientists suggest that women who experience pregnancy loss and do not go on to have children are at greater risk of cardiovascular disease. Even more, women who have five or more children, also have the same risk.

In this study, scientists analyzed data from more than 8,500 White and African-American women, aged 45-64 years, in the US. This included health service data on cardiovascular disease over a thirty year period (1987-2016) and self-reported data on the number of pregnancies and births and breastfeeding practices.

  • 138 women participants reported having pregnancy loss and having no live-born children.
  • 3,108 women had one or two live born children
  • 3,126 had 3-4 live-born children
  • 1,694 had five or more live-born children.

Further analyzing, scientists found that women who experienced pregnancy loss and did not have any live born children. Additionally, they have a 64% greater risk of both coronary heart disease and 46% greater risk of heart failure.

Women with five or more births had a 38% higher risk of having a serious heart attack, regardless of how long they breastfed for.

Scientists noted, “there may be several possible reasons for the link between cardiovascular risk and multiple births. Repeated pregnancies could result in long-lasting changes within the body including weight gain, especially around the waist, and increased levels of cholesterol in the blood. Also, the number of children a woman has also encompassed other factors including child-rearing, age at menopause and health conditions.”

“It is unclear whether the increased risk of heart failure, coronary heart disease, and heart attacks reflect the direct impact of repeated pregnancies or the stressors associated with rearing multiple children, or both.”

Dr Clare Oliver-Williams, a Junior Research Fellow at Homerton College said, “Conditions such as heart disease and stroke together are the leading cause of death in women in the developed world and it is essential that we understand why this is the case. Our work suggests that there is a relation between cardiovascular disease risk and both pregnancy loss and having a large number of births.”

“This study isn’t designed to stress and worry women, especially those who have experienced the distress of pregnancy loss. Instead, we want to empower women with knowledge that will help them to reduce their risk.”

The end results of the study are published in the Journal of Women’s health.


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