TUESDAY, April 16, 2024 Women who experience common complications during a pregnancy could face heightened odds for early death for decades to come, new research shows.

In the largest such study to date, "women who experienced any of five major adverse pregnancy outcomes had increased mortality risks that remained elevated more than 40 years later," said a team led by Dr. Casey Crump, of the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in Houston.

The team published its findings April 15 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

According to Crump's group, "pregnancy has been considered a 'natural stress test' that may yield valuable information for understanding [women's] future health risks."

Indeed, conditions that raise the odds for complications in a pregnancy -- smoking, obesity, diabetes and heart disease -- can raise overall health risks.

In the new study, the Texas team analyzed data on over 2 million Swedish women who delivered single babies between 1973 and 2015. They then tracked the women's health through 2023, when these women averaged 52 years of age.

The team found that a diagnosis of gestational diabetes (diabetes arising while pregnant) raised a woman's odds of dying over the study period by 52%, compared to women without a history of this complication.

Similarly, premature delivery was linked to a 41% higher odds for early death, the study found, and delivering an underweight baby was tied to a 30% rise in risk.

Preeclampsia -- a dangerous spike in blood pressure during a pregnancy -- was also tied to a 13% rise in the odds for an early death, the researchers reported.

All of these risks "remained elevated even 30 to 46 years after delivery," Crump's group noted.

The findings could be important to many women, since "nearly 30% of all women experience an adverse pregnancy outcome during their reproductive years," the study authors said.

Pregnancy complications appeared to raise the risk of early death from multiple causes.

For example, having any of the complications raised a woman's odds for cardiovascular death anywhere from 1.5- to 2.5-fold, compared to women without such histories, the study found.

Among women who delivered prematurely or delivered underweight babies, risks for death from diabetes or respiratory illnesses more than doubled, and the odds for death from cancer rose by up to 20%.

Having more than one type of complication during a pregnancy raised risks even higher.

Women with two or three such complications saw their odds for an early death rise by 56% and 84%, respectively, compared to women whose pregnancies were healthy, the researchers said.

All of this means that primary care doctors should be informed of any pregnancy issues their patients encounter. That way, these women might then receive "early preventive actions" that could cut their odds for illness and lengthen their lives, the researchers said.

More information

Find out more about maintaining a healthy pregnancy at the March of Dimes.

SOURCE: JAMA Internal Medicine, April 15, 2024