Researchers say women who have a later pregnancy should be aware of the cardiovascular risks.
Lead researcher Dr. Adnan I. Qureshi, director of the Zeenat Qureshi Stroke Institute in St. Cloud, MN, and colleagues say their findings are of great importance, given that more women are opting to have children after the age of 40.
A 2013 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that the pregnancy rate in the US for women aged 40-44 increased from 11 per 1,000 women in 1990 to 19 per 1,000 in 2009.
"We already knew that older women were more likely than younger women to experience health problems during their pregnancy," says Dr. Qureshi. "Now, we know that the consequences of that later pregnancy stretch years into the future."
To reach their findings - recently presented at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference 2016 in Los Angeles, CA - the team analyzed data of 72,221 women aged 50-79 who were part of the Women's Health Initiative Study.
Of these women, 3,306 reported becoming pregnant at the age of 40 or older.
Rates of stroke, heart attack and death from cardiovascular diseases were assessed over a period of 12 years and compared between women who became pregnant aged 40 and older and those who had children at a younger age.
Women 'should be aware of cardiovascular risks' with later pregnancies
Compared with women who had a pregnancy at a younger age, those who became pregnant at the age of 40 or older were found to have a 1.4% higher risk of ischemic stroke and a 0.5% higher risk of hemorrhagic stroke.
Ischemic stroke - where blood flow to the brain is blocked - is the most common form of stroke, accounting for around 87% of all cases. Hemorrhagic stroke accounts for the remaining 13% of cases, occurring when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures and bleeds.
- Each year, more than 795,000 people in the US have a stroke
- Around 610,000 of these are first-time strokes
- Stroke costs the US approximately $34 billion every year.
Additionally, the researchers found that women who had a later pregnancy had a 0.5% greater risk for heart attack and a 1.6% greater risk of death from all forms of cardiovascular disease.
Other risk factors for cardiovascular disease - including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes - could account for the increased risks of ischemic stroke, heart attack and cardiovascular death among women with later pregnancies, according to the team.
However, they note that such risk factors were unable to explain the increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke among women with later pregnancies, suggesting that the link between the two warrants further investigation.
At present, later pregnancy is not considered a risk factor for cardiovascular problems. But Dr. Qureshi says their findings should make women aware of the possible increased risks they face and encourage them to take steps to improve their cardiovascular health.
"And their doctors need to remain vigilant years later in monitoring these women's risk factors through physical examination and, perhaps more tests and earlier interventions to prevent stroke and other cardiovascular events," he adds.
Earlier this month, Medical News Today reported on some good news for expectant mothers; a study suggested that eating chocolate daily during pregnancy may benefit fetal growth and development.