Women who put off having children past 35 could be at increased risk of a heart attack or stroke, new research finds.
Babies of older mothers may also be more prone to developing potentially fatal cardiovascular disease later in life – especially boys, the study suggests, according to Daily Mail.
Experiments on rats suggest it may lead to stiffer blood vessels that can trigger a stroke or heart attack.
Dr Sandra Davidge, executive director of the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute at Alberta University in Canada, older mothers’ cardiovascular health could be screened for preventative drugs and lifestyle changes to be prescribed at the earliest opportunity.
‘These data demonstrate mechanisms which may lead to worsened outcomes at an advanced maternal age – including early pregnancy termination – and later life cardiovascular dysfunction,’ she said.
Dr Davidge said previous studies have found being 35 or older during pregnancy increases the risk of impaired vessel function and reduced blood flow to the placenta.
These issues endanger the growth and overall health of the unborn child – and may contribute to heart disease in the mother decades later.
So her team looked at three groups of older female rats that had either given birth, miscarried or never been pregnant.
Those which had lost pups had less widening of the vessels, or vasodilation, which can lead to cardiovascular disease, compared to their childless peers.
The same condition was also seen in the arteries of the intestines of those who successfully had offspring.
The researchers also found sex-specific differences in health risks of the older rats’ offspring.
Male pups had impaired function of the blood vessel lining and cardiac risk factors associated with interrupted blood flow – but not the females.
Dr Davidge said the rats were nine-and-a-half months old – equivalent to a 35 year-old woman in human years.
The delayed pregnancy reduced fertility by almost half (46 percent) and litter size by more than a third (36 percent).
It also restricted the growth of the fetus in the womb – but increased the weight of the mother’s placenta and her blood pressure.
Dr Davidge said: ‘Given the increasing trend toward delaying pregnancy, our findings have significant population and health care implications and further illustrate pregnancy as a window of opportunity to assess cardiovascular health.’
The study was presented at the American Physiological Society’s Cardiovascular, Renal and Metabolic Diseases: Sex-Specific Implications for Physiology conference in Knoxville, Tennessee.
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