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12/03/2018 12:19 EST | Updated 12/03/2018 12:24 EST

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Pregnancy may cause long-term changes to the body, the study found.

A new study has found that women who experience pregnancy loss and do not go on to have children, as well as women who give birth to five or more children, may be at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease.
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A new study has found that women who experience pregnancy loss and do not go on to have children, as well as women who give birth to five or more children, may be at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease.

New research has found that women who experience pregnancy loss and do not go on to have children may be at greater risk of cardiovascular disease, such as heart disease and stroke.

Carried out by researchers from the University of Cambridge, U.K., and the University of North Carolina, the new study looked at data gathered from 8,583 U.S. women aged 45 to 64 years over a 30-year period.

The data included information on history of cardiovascular disease and the women's self-reported data on their number of pregnancies and births and breastfeeding practices.

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Women who had given birth to five or more children also had a high risk of cardiovascular disease.

During the study 138 women reported that they had experienced pregnancy loss and had no children; 3,108 women had one or two children, 3,126 had three to four, and 1,694 had five or more.

The findings, published in the Journal of Women's Health, showed that women who experienced pregnancy loss and had no children showed a 64 per cent higher risk of coronary heart disease and 46 per cent higher risk of heart failure compared to women with one or two children.

Women who had given birth to five or more children also had a 38 per cent higher risk of having a serious heart attack, no matter how long they breastfed for.

Pregnancy involves several possible risk factors

During pregnancy, women may experience changes such as weight gain, higher levels of cholesterol, increased insulin resistance, and changes in the structure of the heart: Although these changes are normally temporary, they are known to be risk factors for cardiovascular disease in the general population.

The team suggest that repeated pregnancies may lead to long-lasting changes within the body, which could explain the findings. The stress associated with bringing up children may also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, and factors such as age at menopause and health conditions may also play a role.

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Immune disorders, chronic disease and dysfunction of the endothelium -- cells that line the interior of blood vessels -- may explain the association between miscarriage and cardiovascular disease, added the researchers.

The study hopes to empower women, not to cause them stress

"This study isn't designed to stress and worry women, especially those who have experienced the distress of pregnancy loss. Instead we want to empower women with knowledge that will help them to reduce their risk," says study author Dr. Clare Oliver-Williams.

"Most women know by the age of 40 how many children and pregnancy losses they have had, which is years before most heart attacks and strokes occur. This provides a window of opportunity to make lifestyle changes, such as exercise and diet that can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease."

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