Purpose of review
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) remains the major killer of women around the globe. Complications during pregnancy, including hypertensive disorders of pregnancy and gestational diabetes mellitus, are now recognized as risk factors for future CVD.
Studies of diverse populations demonstrate the links between these complications of pregnancy and a woman's future risk of CVD including atherosclerosis, hypertension, stroke, coronary artery disease, and heart failure. Markers that persist in these women following pregnancy continue to be identified and include microalbuminuria, proteinuria, elevated homocysteine levels, C-reactive protein, and salt sensitivity. Efforts are now being placed on establishing specialized clinics to monitor women beyond pregnancy to help reduce the burden of future disease.
Pregnancy offers a unique window through which women at risk of future CVD may be identified. Clinicians have an opportunity to implement health monitoring, lifestyle modifications, and other interventions during this period, and beyond, that will help reduce the burden of CVD. Research should continue to focus on identifying and understanding the mechanisms that lead to future CVD in these women; deciphering whether pregnancy unmasks an existing predisposition to disease, compounds the risk of future disease, or is the direct cause of future disease.