Delivering a small baby appears to double a mother’s risk of developing heart disease later in life, a new study shows.
Research by the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston found a woman who delivers a full-term baby of small birth weight faces the same inflated heart risks as someone with high blood pressure and diabetes.
This finding, published in the journal Public Library of Science One, casts new light on the suspected association between low birth-weight infants -- who account for 10 percent of births -- and increased maternal risk. Until this study, researchers believed any link was due to genetic or environmental factors.
"What we found instead is that pregnancies that produce [small] infants may trigger long-term cardiovascular changes that increase the mothers' risks for heart disease," said Dr. Radek Bukowski, one of the study’s researchers. "If future research confirms birth weight as a solid predictor, we will have a low-cost, effective method to improve identification of women at risk and potentially help prevent heart disease decades before women experience trouble."
Heart disease is the leading cause of death among American women, striking 42 million women and killing one in three each year.
The new study was based on an analysis of the health records of more than 6,600 women who participated in The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1999 and 2006.