Is a Large Family Hard on Your Heart?

More pregnancies linked to heart disease.

Posted: 04/04/2014 12:32 PM EDT

Women who gave birth to four or more children have more evidence of plaque in their heart—and early sign of cardiovascular disease—than women who had fewer pregnancies, according to a study from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

The study followed 1,644 women from the Dallas Heart Study to determine whether the number of live births is associated with early signs of cardiovascular disease. Women who had given birth to four or more children had about a two-fold increased risk of having abnormal arterial wall thickness.

“This is not a recommendation for women to only have two or three children,” says Monika Sanghavi, M.D., chief cardiology fellow, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and lead investigator. “Our findings add to the growing body of evidence that the changes associated with pregnancy may provide insight into a woman’s future cardiovascular risk and deserves further attention.”

Pregnancy comes with changes that can place strain on a woman’s cardiovascular system. The volume of blood being pumped through the heart increases by 50 percent, and there are higher cholesterol levels and increased insulin resistance.

“Pregnancy has been called ‘nature’s stress test,’ and for good reason,” Dr. Sanghavi says. “It may also help identify women who are at increased risk [for heart disease], even though right now they may not have any risk factors.”

This study suggests that clinicians should be more thorough in documenting pregnancy histories. The information can be used to better estimate future risk of heart disease.

American women have an average of two to three children, according to U.S. Census. Though 55 percent of the women in this study were African American, those who had more babies were more likely to be older, Hispanic, have high blood pressure, higher body-mass index and lower socioeconomic status.

Read more about how having a lot of children can impact your heart at BlackHealthMatters.Com.

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  (Photo: Catharina van den Dikkenberg/GettyImages)

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