Having more children can increase the risk of developing cardiovascular alterations in women, which are early indicators for heart conditions. Those are the conclusions of a study conducted at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center that compared several women’s cardiology data according to the number of children they gave birth to, revealing the risk is higher in women who give birth to four or more babies.
The UT Southwestern team evaluated information on the number of live births from the Dallas Heart Study and compared it with the levels of coronary artery calcium (CAC) and aortic wall thickness (AWT) in each woman, both of which are initial indicators of heart conditions. Women were placed in different groups according to the number of children they gave birth to: one or no live births, two or three, or four or more live births.
The investigators concluded that in the third group there was a 27% prevalence of high calcium compared with 11% in the second group. “This study adds to a body of evidence that pregnancy, which generally occurs early in a woman’s life, can provide insight into a woman’s future cardiovascular risk,” stated the lead author of the study, Monika Sanghavi, who is an assistant professor of Internal Medicine at the facility.
The conclusions of the study entitled “Association between number of live births and markers of subclinical atherosclerosis: The Dallas Heart Study” were recently published at both the Journal of the American College of Cardiology and at the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. The research also demonstrated there was no correlation between increased risk of heart disease and socioeconomic factors, suggesting that the physiological alterations were directly related to pregnancy.
In addition, the study also revealed that women without children or with only one child have higher rates of CAC and AWT when compared with women with two or three children. The authors believe there is a U-shaped correlation between the number of children and the probability of suffering from heart disease. “It’s likely that there is a different mechanism for the increased risk at the low end. Some of these women could have some underlying disease that prevents them from carrying births to term and increases their risk for heart disease,” explained Sanghavi.
“During pregnancy, a woman’s abdominal size increases, she has higher levels of lipids in her blood, and higher blood sugar levels. Each pregnancy increases this exposure,” said Sanghavi. However, the investigator also noted that further research is necessary to understand the reasons behind this risk, hypothesizing that women with more children accumulate more fat around the abdominal organs (visceral fat), a known risk factor for heart conditions.
“We are learning that there are numerous physiologic changes during pregnancy that have consequences for future heart health,” added senior author Amit Khera, who is also an associate professor of Internal Medicine, director of the Preventive Cardiology Program and holds the Dallas Heart Ball Chair in Hypertension and Heart Disease. “This study reminds us of the importance of taking a pregnancy history as part of cardiovascular disease screening.”