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Researchers analyzed data from more than 273,000 women in Denmark with an average age of 30 who had given birth between 2004 and 2009. None of the women had a history of stroke, heart disease or kidney problems. During up to six years of follow-up, 68 of the women had a heart attack and 175 had a stroke.
Obese women were twice as likely as those with normal weight to suffer a heart attack or stroke within four to five years after giving birth. This increased risk among obese women remained even after the researchers accounted for other pregnancy-related complications or cardiovascular risk factors, including smoking.
Although heart attack and stroke are very rare among women in this age group, a clear and strong link exists between being overweight and increased risk, the researchers said. The study did not, however, prove a cause-and-effect relationship between the two.
They also discovered that women who were underweight had a slightly increased risk for heart attack and stroke.
The study was presented Saturday at the American College of Cardiology annual meeting in San Francisco.
"Young women need to be aware that there are serious health risks associated with obesity and poor lifestyle habits, and these [negative effects] appear to set in early," lead investigator Michelle Schmiegelow, a Ph.D. student at the University of Copenhagen, said in an American College of Cardiology news release.
"This study is important because although the incidence of heart disease is declining overall, this downward trend doesn't seem to apply to women 35 to 44 years of age," she said. "In fact, coronary artery disease seems to be on the rise in this group, however it is still very rare."
Although this study included only women who had given birth, Schmiegelow said she believes the findings apply to all young, healthy women.
Because the research was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: American College of Cardiology, news release, March 7, 2013