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In Australia, cardiovascular disease continues to take the lives of 22 females every day – killing almost three times more women than breast cancer. Preeclampsia and gestational diabetes developed during pregnancy can significantly increase a woman’s risk of heart disease later in life, but these can be manageable complications if monitored.

Each year 30,000 pregnant women in Australia will develop high blood pressure during their pregnancy, with 10,000 of these leading to preeclampsia. Further still, between 12–14 per cent of pregnant women will develop gestational diabetes.

Launching in-line with World Preeclampsia Day (Wednesday, 22 May), #StandByHerHRI is an educational movement from the Heart Research Institute (HRI) targeting the support network around expectant and new mothers.

Heart disease is a leading killer of Australian women. Due to the heightened risks during pregnancy, it is especially important for women to take simple actions – from planning gentle exercise, to reviewing nutritional intake – for a healthier outlook post-partum and into later life,” says Heart Research Institute Vascular Immunology Group Leader, Professor Annemarie Hennessy.

“We know that mum is super focused on baby’s development during pregnancy, so the #StandByHerHRI campaign aims to empower the mother and those around her to support her in protecting her own health as well as baby’s, and ensure that simple steps are taken to help her to keep it monitored, thereby lowering her risk of cardiovascular complications,” added Professor Hennessy.

Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy that negatively impacts mum and baby) is the most common serious medical disorder during pregnancy, with one in 10 women suffering from high blood pressure. It is the major cause of premature birth, and despite the high standards of pregnancy care in Australia, preeclampsia remains one of the major causes of stillbirths and newborn deaths in the country.

In addition, women who suffer from preeclampsia are two to four times more likely to develop high blood pressure in later life, twice as likely to suffer a stroke or heart attack, and their risk of death from heart-related issues increases by 1.5 times. Even more concerningly, research has also found the disease can occur prematurely, up to a decade earlier.

Gestational diabetes

In pregnancy, the hormones from the placenta can cause a woman’s cells to become insulin resistant, meaning glucose levels in the blood rise. Normally the body produces more insulin to counter this. However, for some women this doesn’t happen, and they develop gestational diabetes. This can then cause excess sugars and fats to cross the placenta, meaning babies may grow larger and increase the chance of problems with the birth.

Australian mother Josie Barber experienced gestational diabetes during her pregnancy with baby Flynn, and is a strong campaigner for greater awareness: “As a mum-to-be, all I cared about was making sure my little bump was safe and well. I wasn’t concentrating on my own health, and had no idea about heart disease, or the risks posed to pregnant women.

“The #StandByHerHRI campaign is a great way to remind mothers-to-be of the importance of looking after themselves as well as baby, but also to empower those around her to provide support and help keep her heart healthy,” added Barber.

What you can do

By promising to #StandByHerHRI through monitoring her heart health during pregnancy and beyond – especially if mum develops preeclampsia or gestational diabetes – Australian partners, parents and friends can help significantly lower the risk of their loved ones developing cardiovascular issues later in life.

HRI encourages Australians to get involved and help drive awareness this World Preeclampsia Day by:

  • Whether you’re a mum, mum-to-be, or part of mum’s network of support, sharing a picture of you and the woman you’re standing by this World Preeclampsia Day and telling us how you’re keeping heart healthy with #StandbyHerHRI
  • Sharing on social media to help raise awareness of these preventable complications.

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