Studies have shown women who develop pre-eclampsia during pregnancy have a significantly elevated lifetime risk of developing heart disease.

Epworth HealthCare has launched a new study, aimed at reducing the risk of lifelong heart disease in pregnant women who have high blood pressure.

Globally, heart disease is the number one killer of women, affecting more than one in three Australian women over their lifetime.

Dr Sze Wey Lee, Chair of Obstetrics, Epworth Freemasons said pregnant women, who have high blood pressure due to pre-eclampsia or gestational hypertension, are at greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

“Pre-eclampsia affects between five and seven percent of all pregnancies,” Dr Lee said.

“Pre-eclampsia causes high blood pressure, which can lead to multi-organ dysfunction in pregnancy. Studies have shown women who develop pre-eclampsia during pregnancy have a significantly elevated lifetime risk of developing heart disease, with a fourfold risk of heart failure and twofold risk of stroke and coronary artery disease.”

The ENRICH ME study will give women with pre-eclampsia the opportunity to have their cardiovascular risk assessed three months after their baby is born at Epworth Freemasons, and again, when their baby turns one. Many women aren’t aware of the risks, and as part of the study, they will be given information about their elevated lifetime risk and effective strategies to minimise their risk.

Associate Professor Monique Watts, Cardiologist at Epworth Freemasons, said given the risk of heart disease, women who have high blood pressure due to pre-eclampsia may benefit from early intervention in terms of comprehensive risk assessment, education and risk factor modification after their baby is born.

“The aim of this study is to identify women with pre-eclampsia or gestational hypertension and provide them with early education about their individual risk of heart disease and what can be done to minimise it over their lifetime, starting immediately. Minimising risk can be achieved through blood pressure and cholesterol management, implementing a heart healthy diet and exercise plan, all the way through to education about symptoms so that early intervention can be undertaken” A/Prof Watts said.

“Hopefully, this education helps at-risk women to make appropriate lifestyle changes, to reduce their risk and improve their long term cardiovascular health. It is also hoped this will spur on a much needed conversation about the links between pre-eclampsia and heart disease so everyone is better educated.”

33 year-old Amelia Thomson and her husband Harry welcomed their son Hugo into the world four months ago.

Amelia was diagnosed with preeclampsia during her pregnancy and she attended a follow-up appointment with a cardiologist as part of the study.

“I learnt so much. It was an invaluable session to understand more about preeclampsia,” Ms Thomson said.

“Knowing women with preeclampsia have a risk of heart disease, I will make simple changes to my diet and lifestyle to reduce the risk of heart disease later in life. I’m eating more fish, nuts, chickpeas and lentils. I’m having fun discovering new recipes incorporating these food items along the way. “

The study is funded by a grant from Epworth Medical Foundation.


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