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You may think of preeclampsia as high blood pressure that occurs during or immediately after pregnancy. That's simply not the case. Preeclampsia can occur up to six weeks postpartum.
And that's not all: Research is finding that preeclampsia appears to be a significant warning sign for heart disease after pregnancy. In fact, the American Heart Association's guidelines on cardiovascular disease in women consider preeclampsia as strong a risk factor for heart disease as a failed stress test—a test commonly used to identify existing heart disease.
Recognizing this important risk factor is vital to women's heart health because heart disease is the leading cause of death in women in the United States.
Medical researchers do not yet know exactly how or why preeclampsia and future heart disease are linked, but they do know:
1. A history of preeclampsia doubles the risk of heart attack, stroke and blood clots within 5 to 15 years after pregnancy.
2. Women who have repeat or severe preeclampsia or preeclampsia accompanied by stillbirth are at greater risk of heart disease than women who have high blood pressure only or preeclampsia during a single pregnancy.
3. Many women may not be aware that preeclampsia and other pregnancy complications can signal heart disease risk. A study found that 13 percent of women screened for heart disease risk factors during an OB/GYN visit had three or more cardiovascular disease risk factors they were not aware of.
If you have ever had preeclampsia, it is vital your primary care doctor is aware of your heart disease risk factor. Your health care professional can help you determine next steps for your heart health.
In the meantime, take good care of your ticker by following these 5 steps to a heart-healthy diet.