A new study from the American Heart Association journal, Circulation, shows women who have high blood pressure during pregnancy may be at increased risk for developing heart disease, chronic kidney disease and diabetes.

Researchers followed  more than 12,000 Finnish women for 40 years. One-third of the women had at least one high blood pressure measurement during their pregnancy, and those women were between two and five times more likely to die from heart attacks than those who maintained normal blood pressure measurements. Even women who went on to maintain a healthy blood pressure after pregnancy had an increased risk of developing hypertension that required medication or hospitalization later in life.

Hypertension in pregnancy can have a significant impact on the growth of the fetus. Many times, it leads to a low-birth weight baby, premature delivery and can even create conditions are dangerous for both the mother and her baby, such as placental abruption.

It is also well known that hypertension could lead to the development of preeclampsia, a condition that can occur during pregnancy which causes high blood pressure, measurable protein in the urine, swelling, and if severe, can affect the kidneys and the liver of the expectant mother.

In a healthy patient, blood pressure tends to be on the lower end of the normal range during pregnancy. So it almost acts as a physiologic stress test, that, according to these new findings, tells us that we should monitor these women later in life for cardiovascular disease.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women so our focus should be on eliminating risk factors in order to prevent potential complications from occurring.

Surprisingly enough, for many women, their reproductive experience is the only time they go to the doctor. This is why the role of obstetricians is changing, because now we have to help women change the way they identify and handle potential health problems in the future.