Pregnant women who develop a potentially dangerous health condition in the first 37 weeks of pregnancy have a higher risk of heart problems than those developing it at term, a small study suggests.
Experts already know that pre-eclampsia in pregnancy can increase the risk of heart problems for women, but little is known about the importance of timing.
The latest study found women who suffered pre-eclampsia in the first 37 weeks of pregnancy had a “significantly higher” risk of a heart problem called ventricular dysfunction than those who developed it after 37 weeks.
The experts, from St George’s, University of London, examined the chances of developing the dysfunction within the first year of giving birth.
Ventricular dysfunction occurs when the one of the heart’s chambers develops problems with pumping blood, and it can lead to heart failure.
The team studied 64 women with pre-eclampsia, divided into those who suffered the condition before 37 weeks and those who had it after, and 78 without.
The prevalence of ventricular dysfunction in women who developed pre-eclampsia before 37 weeks was 56 per cent compared with those who developed it at term (14 per cent).
Pre-eclampsia, which is characterised by high blood pressure and too much protein in the urine during pregnancy, can lead to a higher risk of complications, including miscarriage and stillbirth.
Professor Basky Thilaganathan, who led the study published in the journal Hypertension, said: “This is a breakthrough in our understanding of the relationship between pre-eclampsia and heart failure.”