You had a baby five, ten or even fifteen years ago—so what does that have to do with your risk of heart disease? It turns out, if you had preeclampsia during your pregnancy, it could increase your risk for heart disease later in life.

Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication that causes high blood pressure and potential damage to other organs. In most cases, preeclampsia goes away immediately after birth. However, the lasting effects, including the risk of heart disease later in life, do not.

According to the American Heart Association, having preeclampsia is just as much of a risk factor for heart disease as failing a standard heart stress test. Since heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, it’s essential to know all of your risk factors. And take steps to protect your heart health.

The link between preeclampsia and your heart health

Although it is unclear exactly why or how preeclampsia affects a woman’s future risk of heart disease, scientists do know there is a link. Research has shown that women who have preeclampsia are at greater risk of having high blood pressure later in life. They are also at double the risk of having blood clots, a heart attack or stroke within five to fifteen years after pregnancy. The risk increases if you have preeclampsia during more than one pregnancy.

Preventing heart disease

If you did have preeclampsia during any of your pregnancies, let your current doctor know so they can keep a close eye on your heart health. In addition, you should aim to minimize any other risks of heart disease, such as:

  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Smoking

Whether you had preeclampsia or not, you should take steps to reduce your risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke. These steps include:

  • Don’t smoke
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Eat a heart healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • Get plenty of exercise

Protect your heart health: see your doctor regularly for blood pressure, cholesterol and other health screenings. Ready to learn about your heart health? Take our free heart health risk assessment.

For even more answers to your everyday pregnancy questions enable the “40 weeks” skill on Amazon to get answers from Alexa.

You can also find a doctor, explore our maternity center, and register for classes.