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Hypertension during pregnancy should raise alarm bells for doctors.

Women with high blood pressure during pregnancy are at greater risk of heart disease later in life, a new Canadian study suggests.

Researchers found the risk is up to five times higher among women who have pregnancy hypertension than among those who do not.

Between six per cent and eight per cent of pregnant women suffer from pregnancy hypertension, the team said.

Investigators at Laval University and Quebec City's Hôpital St-François d'Assise followed two groups of 170 women who gave birth for the first time between 1989 and 1997. The women were white and in their mid-30s.

They found the women who experienced pregnancy-related high blood pressure were at much greater risk of heart disease eight years after delivering.

The study is billed as the first to formally tie pregnancy hypertension to "metabolic syndrome" later on.

Those with metabolic syndrome have at least three of these five criteria:

  • Abdominal obesity (waist measurement larger than 88 cm).
  • Increased blood pressure (higher than 135/85 mm of mercury).
  • High blood sugar rate (higher than 6.1 mmol/L).
  • Reduction in "good cholesterol" (HDL-C lower than 1.3 mmol/L).
  • An increase in the blood concentration of triglycerides (higher than 1.7 mmol/L).

Part of the problem is, doctors do not routinely follow up for heart disease with women who develop high blood pressure during pregnancy, said Dr. Yves Giguère, a lead author of the study.

That's because until now, pregnancy hypertension was generally thought of as a temporary condition, with no lasting effects, he said.

Pregnancy hypertension should raise a flag to doctors, prompting them to follow up with women and offer preventive care. Doing so could reduce the risk of heart attacks, the team proposed.

Women with pregnancy hypertension could also try to reduce their risk factors for heart disease, Giguère suggested.

The study is published in the June issue of the medical journal Obstetrics and Gynecology.