Pregnancy is a unique chance to predict health risks to mums

A recently published article, co-authored by Professor Catherine Williamson from Tommy’s Research Centre at King’s College London, suggests that certain pregnancy complications can indicate future health issues for women.

June 23 2020

Pregnancy health as an indicator for future health

Complications during pregnancy can tell us a lot about how vulnerable the mother is to other serious health problems in future, according to an article co-authored by Professor Catherine Williamson from Tommy’s London Research Centre at King’s College London.

As pregnancy puts such intense pressure on the body, the article states that carefully assessing how someone copes with this challenge can give medical professionals a rare insight into their odds of developing certain health complications.

The body adapts to meet the extreme demands of growing a baby; blood volume increases, hormones change significantly, and metabolic processes are disrupted. This new research suggests that complications such as gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia and intrahepatic cholestasis developing in pregnancy can signal future health problems.

What can we learn about future health by analysing pregnancy complications? 

The article outlines the relationship between pregnancy complications and potential future health issues, highlighting links between certain complications and several long-term medical conditions.

Researchers argue that the insight provided by pregnancy offers a unique opportunity for screening, treatment and possibly prevention of future diseases. With better communication between obstetricians and GPs, they believe that pregnancy could give medical professionals the chance to assess and reduce mothers’ risks of various health problems.

Hypertension and pre-eclampsia

Possible future outcomes: chronic hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, deep vein thrombosis

Potential interventions: risk factor management, aspirin, calcium, vitamin D

Gestational diabetes

Possible future outcomes: chronic hypertension, diabetes, metabolic syndrome

Potential interventions: lifestyle intervention programmes, behavioural therapy, metformin

Gestational weight gain

Possible future outcomes: diabetes, obesity

Potential interventions: risk factor management, behavioural therapy, breastfeeding and bariatric surgery

Intrahepatic cholestasis

Possible future outcomes: cirrhosis, liver diseases, liver transplantation

Potential interventions: risk factor management, specialist treatments

Research evidence clearly shows that complications during pregnancy leave mothers more likely to develop various diseases in the years after giving birth. However, currently there are not many clinical care options during or after pregnancy that can significantly affect that risk, and not much attention is being paid to this issue on a public health policy level.

More research is needed to find out whether identifying risk and taking action early could prevent the occurrence of these diseases. In the meantime, patients need better education and counselling from their doctors – during pregnancy and beyond, which also means the health care system needs to be more joined up, to help mothers get the right care in the right place at the right time.

What does this mean for me?

If you experience pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes, hypertension, high gestational weight gain or intrahepatic cholestasis, you may choose to visit your GP after the birth of your baby to develop a personalised care plan.

Together with your GP, you can set goals to improve your future health and manage your personal risk factors in pregnancy and beyond.