Toronto: Women who give birth to infants with congenital heart defects may have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular diseases later in life, a study has found.
The study of more than one million women is the first to show congenital heart defects in newborns may be a marker for an increased risk of their mothers developing heart problems, including heart attack and heart failure, years after pregnancy.
Researchers from University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre in Canada analysed data on women who delivered infants between 1989 and 2013, who had critical, noncritical or no heart defects.
They tracked the women up to 25 years after pregnancy for hospitalisations related to cardiovascular disease including heart attack, heart failure, atherosclerotic disorders and heart transplants.
Researchers found a 43 per cent higher risk of any cardiovascular hospitalisation in women whose offspring had critical heart defects and 24 per cent higher risk in women whose babies had noncritical defects.
How heart defects in infants relate to post-pregnancy cardiovascular disease in their mothers is unclear, and a genetic component cannot be excluded.
Since 85 per cent of infants with heart defects now survive past adolescence, the psychosocial impact of congenital heart disease on caregivers may have a cumulative effect over the long term, researchers said.
"Caring for infants with critical heart defects is associated with psychosocial and financial stress, which may increase the mothers' long-term risk for cardiovascular disease," said Nathalie Auger, epidemiologist at the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre.
Researchers believe the study provides an opportunity for these mothers to benefit from early prevention strategies and counselling to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease - the leading cause of death in women.
Healthcare providers, like obstetricians, who treat and follow mothers in the early stages of dealing with children who have heart defects can help women understand and minimise their risk, Auger said.
"Those physicians are very well-positioned to inform women about this possibility, the greater risk of heart disease, and to provide recommendations for targeting other risk factors like smoking, obesity and physical activity," she said.