Heart disease runs pretty strongly through my family, which is why I try so hard to stay active and healthy. Unfortunately, heart disease is usually only diagnosed later in life, so you can’t really prepare for any chronic diseases you might have. However, researchers have recently found that pregnancy might be useful for diagnosing any heat disease that you might develop later in life.

Physicians with the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine released a paper on July 1st called “Pregnancy as a Window to Future Health: The development of complications in pregnancy provides a new window of opportunity for early heart disease risk screening and intervention for women.” The paper says that since pregnancy forces the body to go through extreme stress and is very hard on the cardiovascular and metabolic systems, it acts as the ultimate stress test and can reveal inclinations towards various types of heart related diseases before they form, giving women the chance to prevent the diseases before they happen.

George Saade, MD, FACOG, past president of SMFM and co-author of the report explained, "The rates of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and obesity in women are rising, and the current practice is to wait until late in the life cycle to screen for these conditions. SMFM believes that the tools and information to assess risk should be expanded to include information obtained during pregnancy. Clues during this period can raise red flags for a woman's health later in life."

The way that pregnancy reveals a future risk of heart disease is through common pregnancy complications like preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, preterm birth, gestational impaired intolerance, gestational hypertension, and clinically significant placental abruption. All of these complications can be markers for increased risk of premature cardiovascular disease or even death. 

It’s unfortunate that it’s the ugly side of pregnancy that can reveal the signs of early heart disease, but in the long run it can help you plan for your future and perhaps even prevent heart disease from developing. If you know you have a history of heart disease in your family you should start preparing for it now, even before you become pregnant. If you do end up developing one of these common pregnancy complications, make sure to follow up with a heath professional sometimes after birth to discuss your option for the future.

Source: Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (2013, July 1). Pregnancy as window to future health. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2013.