A high blood pressure condition that typically threatens the lives of some pregnant women may also increase their risk of developing heart disease later in life, researchers have found.
The findings show that women with a history of pre-eclampsia are more likely to face atherosclerosis -- hardening and narrowing of the arteries -- decades after their pregnancy.
Pre-eclampsia is a condition that typically shows itself 20 weeks into the pregnancy, and can occur suddenly or develop slowly. The complication poses a concern to the mother and foetus, and affects between 2 and 7 per cent of pregnancies.
"We've found that pre-eclampsia continues to follow mothers long after the birth of their child," said Vesna Garovic, from Mayo Clinic in the US.
"The good news is that we can use these findings to apply earlier interventions for risk factors before cardiovascular disease presents," Garovic added.
For the study, published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, the team identified post-menopausal women with histories of pre-eclampsia and others with normotensive -- or normal blood pressure -- pregnancy histories.
Carotid artery intima-media thickness, or the thickness of the artery walls, was measured in addition to blood tests.
The artery wall thickness of women with a history of pre-eclampsia was significantly greater than those with normotensive pregnancies.
"Even without a history of cardiovascular events, women who have had pre-eclampsic pregnancies are facing a higher risk of atherosclerosis decades later during their postmenopausal years," Garovic.
"This makes pre-eclampsia a pregnancy complication that extends well beyond the pregnancy itself."