Pregnancy-related complications don’t always end after the baby is born, a new UC Berkeley study suggests. For many women, conditions suffered while carrying a child to term significantly increase the chances of death from cardiovascular disease decades later.
The study, published Sept. 21 in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation, examined pregnancies between 1959 and 1967 in the Oakland area, and mothers’ deaths that occurred through 2011. The approximately 14,000 women enrolled were a median age of 26 at the start of the study and 66 at its finish. Overall, 64 percent of mothers suffered no complications, 31 percent experienced a single complication and 5 percent had two or more complications.
Analysis after the follow-up period showed that conditions such as pre-term birth, hemorrhage, gestational hypertension and high blood pressure resulted in up to a seven-fold increase in risk of a woman’s death from cardiovascular disease depending on the condition. The risk is most significant for women who suffer more than one condition during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes was found to be a risk factor only in African American women.
In any pregnancy, the cardiovascular system is challenged by increased coagulation and a doubling of blood volume, the study points out. For women with pre-existing or pregnancy-induced conditions, the strain is worse.
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Researchers hope the new study will encourage women to be vigilant about heart health during pregnancy, and to encourage physicians to identify high-risk women to implement early prevention.
Possible factor in ALS identified
A study recently released by the National Institutes of Health sheds a promising light on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a debilitating neurological disease that can affect an individual’s ability to move, speak, swallow and breathe.
There is no confirmed cure for ALS, which affects about 12,000 Americans, and scientists have long been in the dark about its cause. But researchers at the NIH recently announced that a dormant viral gene embedded in the human genome appears to be linked to the condition if it becomes reactivated.
Remnants of human endogenous retroviral genes, or HERVs, have been passed on through the human genome for generations and are often called “junk DNA,” said Dr. Avindra Nath, clinical director at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and a senior author on the study, in a news release.
Prior studies showed that a protein encoded by a critical HERV-K gene, called env, was found in brain samples from ALS patients. To test its effect, researchers genetically modified mice so that their neurons would activate the env gene. Those mice died earlier than typical mice, and showed symptoms similar to ALS symptoms such as problems with balance.
When scientists inspected the brains, spinal cords and muscles of the mice, they found that motor neurons, the cells that control movements and die in ALS, were damaged, according to the release.
The researchers are now collaborating with Johns Hopkins University to determine whether antiretroviral medications, which have been useful in slowing HIV production, could be effective in treating ALS.
“We may have discovered a precision medicine solution for treating a neurodegenerative disorder,” said Nath.
Height link to early death
Tall people are getting the short end of the stick when it comes to their longevity after dialysis, a new study suggests.
While being tall has been shown to improve lifespan in studies of the general population, tall men undergoing dialysis are about 1.2 times more likely to die prematurely than other dialysis patients. Tall women are about 1.1 times more likely.
A study published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology looked at slightly more than 1 million patients who began dialysis in the United States from 1995 to 2008 and followed them for an average of 1.6 years. Researchers have not yet determined a cause for the correlation.
The association between height and premature death was true for Caucasian, Asian and American Indian/Alaskan native patients, but not for African American patients. In that group, increasing height was associated with a lower risk of premature death, as seen in the general population.
Among non-black patients, the association between height and premature death was found in both genders, though it was stronger for males. It was also stronger for patients who had shorter dialysis treatment times.
Authors noted that height should be considered a component of body mass index, which may have its own relationship to morbidity for patients receiving dialysis.
“Height exerts an important quantifiable effect on dialysis patient survival,” said author Dr. Austin Stack, in a news release. “It is an easily measured physical trait and our study shows that it is an important prognostic marker for survival.”