I just found out that my history of preeclampsia puts me at higher risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD). Does this mean I could fall over dead at any time? I'm scared, what should I do?
Our Admin, Jennifer Hohulin Heiniger, writes:
Deep breath, everyone! First the bad news: Yes, our history of preeclampsia puts us at higher risk of CVD, including things like heart attack and stroke. But that does NOT mean we might all suddenly die at any moment with no warning.
Here is some perspective:
A risk factor means there is a possibility, but it is not a sure prediction. Having this risk factor does not mean we will definitely develop CVD. It does not mean it would happen early in life if it does. It also does not mean it will definitely be severe. It could just mean we have a little chronic hypertension when we reach menopause. (Yes, chronic hypertension is a form of CVD, and many in this community already have it.)
Another thing to keep in mind is that CVD is very common among ALL people, not just those of us with a history of preeclampsia. It is the leading cause of death among developed nations. If you had not had preeclampsia, there would still be a good chance you would develop CVD at some point.
A quick summary of the research:
We do know that a history of preeclampsia puts us at higher risk of CVD. We do not know exactly why. It is possible we already had a genetic tendency for CVD, which could be what triggers preeclampsia in some cases. It is possible preeclampsia causes damage to our cardiovascular system that leads to CVD. Or it could be a combination of both. In other words, if we had never been pregnant, would we still get CVD, and would it appear at the same age and in the same way? We do not know.
We also do not know yet if there is a difference in risk for early-onset preeclampsia compared with late-onset, or for those who have had preeclampsia just once versus more than once. It would be easy to assume, but researchers are still breaking down the data and statistics. Until we have solid information, we cannot say that for sure. It also means we do not know whether having more children (and possibly having preeclampsia again) would raise your risk, or if stopping after one child offers any protection.
Now for some good news!
There are things we can do to protect ourselves. Knowledge is power. Knowing we have this risk can motivate us to make healthy lifestyle choices to avoid adding more risk. Eat a generally healthy diet, drink plenty of water, find an exercise routine you enjoy, if you smoke, get help to quit, etc.
We can get regular physicals and screening tests. When you see your primary doctor at your annual appointment, they can check your blood pressure and run blood work for things like cholesterol and triglycerides. They may also want to do some baseline tests like an electrocardiogram or echocardiogram to compare to in the future. If these tests show something concerning, they can refer you to a specialist and help you develop a treatment plan. CVD can be managed!
And finally, you can learn about symptoms to watch for and what to do if you notice something. If you do have signs of a heart attack or stroke, knowing the symptoms will allow you to get care quickly so the damage can be treated as soon as possible.
We can still live long, healthy, happy lives even with this risk, even with CVD! There is hope!