A mother with two young children (Photo: ShutterStock)
Multiple pregnancies are not easy for the body, but we know that raising children is not easy either. A new study from the universities of Cambridge and North Carolina found that women who had five or more children were 38 percent more likely to have a heart attack than women who carried only one or two pregnancies.
After examining 30-year health data from 8,583 women aged 45 to 64 years, the researchers also found that subjects who had five or more births had a 25 percent and 17 percent higher risk of stroke and heart failure, respectively, while women with three to four children had a moderately increased risk of serious health consequences.
"The goal of this study is not to scare women but to let them know as early as possible if they may be at increased risk of heart attacks," said lead researcher Dr. Claire Oliver-Williams. "We know that pregnancy and childbirth put a lot of strain on the heart, and raising children can also be very stressful. We don't want to add to the stress that people have in their daily lives, but to equip them with the knowledge to do something about it."
A woman has a heart attack (Photo: ShutterStock)
The pregnancy or the exhausting growth of the children?
Dr. Oliver-Williams told IFLScience that her team's statistical analysis is adjusted for a large number of other factors known to affect women's health, including age, race, location, socioeconomic status, health insurance, smoking status, reproductive years, use of birth control pills and use of hormone replacement therapy. The model also took into account the age of the women in their first pregnancy and how long they breastfed (previous studies have linked breastfeeding to improved cardiovascular health in mothers.)
Women who had multiple miscarriages during the study period showed 60 percent higher rates of heart disease and 45 percent higher rates of heart failure compared to women who had one to two births — a result the team attributes to underlying medical problems, both of which complicate pregnancy and impact cardiovascular health.
One limitation of the study is that it makes it impossible to separate whether the physiological damage that led to the subjects' cardiovascular events was due to the number of repeated pregnancies, the exhausting demands of raising children afterwards, or both.
"A study like this reminds us that regardless of the stereotype of an overweight middle-aged man who has a heart attack, heart disease attacks both men and women."
- Heart disease
- Heart attack