TUESDAY, Feb. 10, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Women who have a preterm baby may face an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, a preliminary study suggests.
Researchers analyzed data from 10 large studies conducted in Denmark, Finland, Norway, Scotland and Sweden to examine the possible link between spontaneous preterm delivery and heart disease risk. The smallest study had more than 3,700 women. The largest study had more than 923,000, according to the researchers.
Preterm delivery is a birth that occurs before 37 weeks of pregnancy, according to the researchers. Spontaneous preterm delivery occurs naturally. There are also medically induced preterm deliveries, which may be done due to health problems that threaten the mother or baby.
Women with a history of spontaneous preterm delivery had a 38 percent increased risk for fatal and nonfatal heart disease that involved blocked vessels. The risk of stroke -- fatal and nonfatal -- was 71 percent, according to the study.
The study only revealed an association between preterm delivery and risk of heart disease and stroke. A cause-and-effect link wasn't proven.
The study was published Feb. 10 in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
Many women who experience spontaneous preterm delivery already have heart disease risk factors, said study lead investigator Dr. Karst Heida, who's with the obstetrics department at University Medical Center, Utrecht, the Netherlands. Risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes.
This means that the factors that underlie heart disease may also play a role in preterm delivery, he added.
There isn't yet enough evidence to include spontaneous preterm delivery on accepted heart disease risk charts or in prevention guidelines, according to the researchers. But this finding could be used to identify women at increased risk for heart disease. The information could be used to advise them to make lifestyle changes to reduce their risk of heart disease, Heida said.
The U.S. Office on Women's Health offers heart disease prevention tips.