Number of Kids Associated With Risks of Subclinical Atherosclerosis in Moms

March 28, 2014

WASHINGTON, DC — New data from the Dallas Heart Study suggest there is an association between the number of children women give birth to and markers of subclinical atherosclerosis[1].

Women with two to three kids had the lowest risk of atherosclerosis as assessed by aortic-wall thickness and coronary artery calcium (CAC) screening, while those with no children or one baby, as well as those with four or more children, had a higher risk of subclinical atherosclerosis, report investigators.

"Recently, there has been evidence that pregnancy might also function as a crystal ball, providing insight into a woman's future cardiovascular risk, and that changes associated with pregnancy might have a longer-term impact on a woman's health," said Dr Monika Sanghavi (University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas). "We believe that the number of children you have is associated with the future risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack, stroke, and cardiovascular death, but the mechanism is not clearly understood."

Presenting the results during a media briefing in advance of the American College of Cardiology 2014 Scientific Sessions , the researchers hypothesized that one of the possible links between pregnancy and cardiovascular risk might be through the development of subclinical atherosclerosis. Their study included 1644 women participating in the Dallas Heart Study, including an oversampling of African American women (55%).

Overall, the researchers observed a "U shape" with regard to the number of children and risk of atherosclerosis. For women with zero to one, two to three, or four or more children, the prevalence of coronary calcification was 15%, 11%, and 27%, respectively. A similar U-shaped curve was observed when aortic-wall thickness was used as a surrogate for measuring subclinical disease. Similar results were achieved when researchers excluded women who still might have more children.

"We think the increased risk on either end of the curve likely represents two different processes, such that repeated pregnancy increases the risk in a different way compared with women who are unable to get pregnant," said Sanghavi. The investigators stressed that the findings should not be used to make recommendations on how many children a woman should have, she added.

Full results from this study are being presented during ACC 2014 but were released early via a special preconference press briefing, focused on consumer-interest news.


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