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5th September 2022

Preventing Heart Disease After A Problem Pregnancy

Emily Aldridge

Taking steps to improve women’s health during and after a problematic pregnancy will help prevent heart problems later in life, new research has found.

Clinical Research Officer Emily Aldridge said that women who have complications during pregnancy have an increased risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.

Since 2018 Emily has been working at the COFFEE* Clinic at Lyell McEwin Hospital, set up by her supervisor Associate Professor Margaret Arstall with funding from Australian Heart Research. The clinic educates and guides women who experience serious complications throughout pregnancy.

These complications include hypertensive disorders of pregnancy (like preeclampsia), gestational diabetes, foetal growth restriction, preterm birth and placental abruption.

“The COFFEE Clinic offers a health assessment and provides expert lifestyle advice to help reduce women’s risk of developing heart disease and diabetes in the future,” Emily said.

More than 300 women were seen at six and 18 months postpartum by a nurse practitioner to measure their metabolic health and determine how effective the clinic’s counselling has been.

“My research has shown a five per cent reduction in the prevalence of metabolic syndrome, which refers to the cluster of dangerous risk factors occurring together such as abdominal obesity, high triglycerides (fat), low stores and good cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes,” Emily said.

“Only three of these criteria need to be met to have metabolic syndrome. The fact that we are seeing young women with this early in their life is concerning because it means they are at a risk of getting heart disease, but it does give us a good opportunity for early detection.”

Emily recently submitted her PhD and the findings reinforced the need for follow-up care for women who’ve had complicated pregnancies.

“We discovered that women who met the criteria for metabolic syndrome also had more adverse mental health outcomes, which gives a unique perspective into the potential relationship of cardiometabolic health and mental wellbeing in new mums,” Emily said.

“Although the results are not fully conclusive, they are encouraging and suggest we should continue to intervene in this cohort of patients to help reduce their cardiometabolic health.

“My group and I want to further investigate how to improve attendance at the COFFEE Clinic as well as explore ways to increase awareness of pregnancy complications earlier in pregnancy.

“Rates of cardiovascular disease have been increasing in young women in Australia and globally. Thank you for supporting my research which has been important in helping us better understand how to detect risk in young women and intervene before they develop heart disease.”

*COFFEE is an abbreviation of ‘Cardiovascular assessment after Obstetric complications: Follow-up For Education and Evaluation’