Heart disease tends to run in my family and most of the women usually suffer from high blood pressure and heart murmurs. Since we already know this, we try to avoid lifestyles that could exacerbate these conditions and make them worse. However, what about the women who don’t know they might suffer from medical conditions until it’s too late to do anything about them? Well, researchers have found that pregnancy often gives women a window to their medical future.

The Canadian Stroke Congress has found that women who experience high blood pressure during pregnancy are more at risk of having a stroke later in life. Dr. Aravind Ganesh, a neurology resident at the University of Calgary, led the study along with medical student Neha Sarna, Dr. Rahul Mehta, and senior author Dr. Eric Smith. They discovered through a study review that elevated blood pressure increased the risk of stroke up to 40%.

During their research, they looked at nine previous studies that examined hypertension in pregnant women and how it affected their heath later in life. The studies followed women for up to 32 years after pregnancy in order to get a well-rounded medical history. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is extremely common in many pregnancies and it affects around 2-3% of all pregnancies. Besides the risk of stroke, hypertension can also restrict blood flow to the placenta or even cause early delivery.

Dr. Ganesh says that women with hypertension during pregnancy "should be more closely followed for a re-emergence of hypertension, as well as for cholesterol, diabetes or other markers of increased risk of stroke.”

Though the exact cause of high blood pressure during pregnancy is unknown, a popular theory is that some women are simply genetically predisposed to the condition and pregnancy is what makes the condition present itself. Even though hypertension may fade after delivery, women who develop hypertension should check their blood pressure often and take steps to reduce their risk of stroke later in life.

"Hypertension is the most important risk factor for stroke," says Dr. Michael Hill, co-chair of the Canadian Stroke Congress. "Knowing your blood pressure may be one of the most important steps you can take to reducing stroke risk, something that is particularly true among women with a history of pregnancy-associated hypertension."

Women who are aware of their elevated blood pressure should also be aware of their ability to reduce it through healthy living and diet, especially during pregnancy. If women find that they have hypertension during pregnancy, they should contact their doctors as soon as possible to discuss risk factors and overall vascular health.

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada (2013, October 18). High blood pressure during pregnancy could elevate risk of future stroke.ScienceDaily.