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
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
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.
In this Q&A, we sit down and chat with with Tom Willmott, a researcher based at Tommy’s Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre in Manchester. He gives a rare insight into a novel and exciting area of pregnancy health research, known as ‘maternal microbiology’, looking at what we can learn by studying bacteria in the mouths of mums-to-be.
Tommy’s has received a grant from the UK Government’s Department for Health and Social Care to support the costs of its PregnancyHub information and support services throughout the summer, due to rising demand in the wake of coronavirus.
Although recruitment to some clinical trials had to be paused when coronavirus hit the UK, scientists at Tommy’s Research Centres across the UK are still hard at work, supporting women and families in our specialist clinics and sharing their latest studies with academic journals.
The day before Mother’s Day, and two days before the UK officially went into coronavirus lockdown, Zara Dawson found out she was having a miscarriage. Her third consecutive miscarriage in less than a year, and fourth consecutive loss, after losing her second son Jesse in 2018 to termination for medical reasons.