RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
There's some new information about heart disease in women. Some of the risk factors are well-known - smoking, poor diet and obesity. Now doctors say complications in pregnancy can put women at risk too. Anna Gorman reports from Los Angeles.
ANNA GORMAN, BYLINE: Lara Hogan sits on the floor of her Topanga Canyon home and plays with her 1-year-old son, Zion.
LARA HOGAN: How about your drum?
ZION: (Playing toy drum).
GORMAN: Zion was born prematurely at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in LA.
HOGAN: Good song.
GORMAN: Hogan took medicine off and on for moderately high blood pressure. It runs in her family. During her pregnancy, it was well controlled without meds. But a month before her due date, her pressure spiked to a dangerous level. It's called preeclampsia, and it can be fatal.
HOGAN: It was a nightmare. It was really, like, all I dreamt about was this moment for so many years, and it was, like, the opposite of everything I thought it would be.
GORMAN: Doctors told her they had to deliver the baby right away. But unlike most women, Hogan's pressure didn't return to normal after delivery.
HOGAN: So they had someone standing at my bedside monitoring me in case anything happened because I guess they were so nervous that I was going to have a stroke.
GORMAN: Finally, Hogan recovered. And soon after Zion was born, doctors connected her with the hospital's Women's Heart Center.
Hogan, who's 41, learned that she could have future heart problems because of her complications in pregnancy, which are more common in older mothers.
HOGAN: It is clear that there is a higher risk for me of heart disease based on what I went through. So I'm going to be all over that.
GORMAN: The chances of heart disease increase up to eightfold if women have high blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy or if their babies are born too small or too early. Dr. Noel Bairey Merz is the director of the Women's Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai.
NOEL BAIREY MERZ: This is a, you know, an area of what we would call knowledge gaps.
GORMAN: Pregnancy may contribute to vascular complications, or the stress of pregnancy may reveal problems that were already there.
BAIREY MERZ: We don't know which of these is true or even if both could be true.
GORMAN: Bairey Merz and others are trying to find out. So far, they're following about a hundred new moms, including Hogan, to understand the link between pregnancy problems and heart disease later in life. In another study, 5,000 new moms are being followed nationwide.
BAIREY MERZ: Eighty percent of women in the United States have at least one child. So if we can figure this out, we could make tremendous strides towards preventing heart disease in women.
GORMAN: Most women who've had pregnancy complications don't need to rush to the cardiologist, but they and their doctors do need to be aware of the risks later in life, says Barbara Levy of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
BARBARA LEVY: That is a huge issue, that women in their 40s or early 50s might see a cardiologist who is completely unaware of her higher risk. So we've got a big advocacy and education piece that we should be doing together.
GORMAN: New mother Laura Hogan takes her blood pressure one morning at home. It's something doctors told her she needs to do regularly. The first time, it's too high. She takes a deep breath and tries again.
HOGAN: One-fifty-seven over 95. It's better, but that's still high.
GORMAN: Hogan says she's determined to keep on top of her health.
HOGAN: As much as it's not fresh in my mind, and I don't want to be thinking about my future heart health or worrying about what's going to happen when I'm older, this, is, like, priority No. 1 for my health right now, is staying on top of my heart.
GORMAN: After all, Hogan says, she has a toddler to chase after. I'm Anna Gorman in Los Angeles.
MARTIN: And Anna Gorman is with our partner Kaiser Health News.
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