An early sign of heart disease and plaque buildup was much more common in women who had given birth to four or more children, according to new research presented at the American College of Cardiology conference.
Researchers said these findings could help screening efforts and intervention strategies for women who have four or more children. The survey did not include information on why women with more children have an increased risk of heart disease compared to those women with 2 or 3 children. Evidence does suggest, however, that pregnancy could have a longer term impact on a woman's health.
The study included more than 1,600 women with an average age of 45. 55% of the women were African American. The study found that the women with 2 or 3 children had the lowest rates of plaque buildup, at 11%. It was more than twice that in women who had given birth to 4 or more children, at 27%. The research also found that women who had never given birth or only had one child had a plaque buildup rate of 15%.
Researchers are looking into why this is and are considering factors that occur during pregnancy such as increased volume of blood pumped to the heart and increased insulin resistance and high cholesterol levels. Researchers are also curious why women with no children or just one have an increased risk of heart disease and are questioning whether there might be an underlying condition that prevents them from becoming pregnant and also predisposes them to heart disease, such as inflammation, excess body weight, diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
Lead investigator and chief cardiology fellow at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Monika Sanghavi stressed that “While we found that women with two to three live births had the lowest prevalence of subclinical atherosclerosis, these findings should not be considered as a recommendation for the number of children a woman should have.”