Women who give birth after 40 'have higher risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke later in life'

'Now, we know that the consequences of that later pregnancy stretch years into the future'

Women who give birth after 40 are putting themselves at greater risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke later in life compared to those having children at a younger age, new research suggests.

The study, presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference in Los Angeles, examined data involving more than 72,000 women, of whom 3,300 reported that they became pregnant late in life.

The researchers compared their rates of stroke, heart attack and cardiovascular death over 12 years of follow up with women who were pregnant at a younger age. They found that 2.4 per cent of women who were pregnant at a younger age were at risk of ischemic stroke – which occurs when an artery to the brain is blocked - compared to 3.8 per cent of women who got pregnant over the age of 40.

Risk of a haemorrhagic stroke - a brain aneurism burst or a weakened blood vessel leak - rose from 0.5 per cent in younger mothers to 1 per cent in older mothers. The chance of having a heart attack also rose slightly for women who became pregnant over 40 - from 2.5 per cent to 3 per cent.

Meanwhile women who got pregnant later in life had a 3.9 per cent risk of cardiovascular death compared to 2.3 per cent of women who became pregnant earlier in life.

“We already knew that older women were more likely than younger women to experience health problems during their pregnancy,” said Professor Adnan Qureshi, lead researcher and director of the Zeenat Qureshi Stroke Institute in Minnesota.

“Now, we know that the consequences of that later pregnancy stretch years into the future. Women with a late pregnancy need to be aware of their increased risk and take steps to improve their cardiovascular health.”

Professor Qureshi also called on women’s doctors to remain vigilant in the years after a late birth in monitoring the extra risk factors through physical examination and more tests.

Around 4 per cent of babies in England and Wales were born to mothers aged over 40, according to latest figures.

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