WOMEN who have had pre-eclampsia during pregnancy are four times as likely to develop high blood pressure, and twice as likely to have heart disease, yet few are aware of the risk, a Hunter nutrition and dietetics researcher says.
Dr Melinda Hutchesson, from the University of Newcastle and HMRI, said around 10,000 women – one-in-30 pregnancies – were affected by pre-eclampsia in Australia each year.
While the symptoms of pre-eclampsia, such as high blood pressure, tended to disappear after pregnancy, a woman’s risk of heart disease increased by up to four times.
“The scary thing is that it does not actually occur when they are 60, 70, 80 – it can be when they are in their 40s. So the children that they have had might still be in primary school,” she said.
But Dr Hutchesson said women were not being informed of their higher risk, and were not receiving preventative services that could slow the progression of heart disease. A survey of women across Australia showed only two-thirds were aware of their increased risk. Of those, 60 per cent had found out through their own research.
Dr Hutchesson’s particular interest in the area was driven by personal tragedy.
“I and pre-eclampsia with my first daughter, and her growth was affected, so I had to have an emergency Caesarean when I was 29 weeks pregnant,” she said.
Her daughter, Stevie, survived for four precious days.
“I only found out about my increased risk of heart disease through my own research,” she said. “A health professional hadn’t mentioned it to me along the way.
“When something like that happens to you, you want to do something. I thought that because I was more of an extreme case, and obviously had a horrible outcome, I figured they decided it wasn’t the best time to tell someone they might also get heart disease. But the survey we have done shows that is not actually the case.”
In research funded by the Heart Foundation, Dr Hutchesson is recruiting women aged 18-to-45 who have had pre-eclampsia in the past four years to participate in a three-month online heart disease program.
“At the moment there isn’t a specifically available for this group,” Dr Hutchesson said.
“It is recommended that women who have had pre-eclampsia receive ongoing blood pressure monitoring and have their blood cholesterol levels checked every five years, as well as receive advice on all those things that help prevent heart disease – healthy eating, physical activity, weight management and smoking cessation.
“We found most of the women we surveyed had had their blood pressure checked, but very few had received that other advice – less than 5 per cent.”
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