Purpose of review
This review describes how the physiological demands of pregnancy act as a maternal stress test that can predict a woman's health in later life. Pregnancy transiently catapults a woman into a metabolic syndrome that predisposes to vascular endothelial dysfunction. Women who are already predisposed to this phenotype develop gestational hypertension or diabetes mellitus, which re-emerge in later life as the metabolic syndrome returns. Pregnancy can also temporarily unmask sub-clinical disease, which may return in later life when the effects of ageing diminish the limited reserves of a vulnerable organ.
Recent studies have attempted to assess how gestational syndromes affect the risk for a woman of developing a diverse range of diseases in later life. As well as cardiovascular disease and diabetes mellitus, pregnancy can reveal a vulnerability to thyroid and pituitary disorders, liver and renal disease, depression, thrombosis and even cancer.
Although our knowledge of this phenomenon is incomplete, women who have had gestational syndromes, in particular pregnancy-induced hypertension/preeclampsia or gestational diabetes, should make lifestyle changes that will reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease in later life.