Evidence is growing that pregnancy may be considered a "stress test" for future risk of heart disease, with different complications being linked to important risk factors later in life. Women who had hypertensive disorders in pregnancy, such as high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia, have been shown to have greater risk of developing hypertension and heart disease years later. Complications with blood sugar levels during pregnancy, such as gestational diabetes, have also been linked to the development of diabetes in relatively young women.
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Women with hormonal imbalances such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) are at greater risk of having diabetes, high blood pressure and heart attacks than women without PCOS. Women who experience premature ovarian failure have lower levels of estrogen and an increased risk of developing heart disease after age 55.
Women younger than 55 have a lower risk of heart disease than men the same age, but this gap narrows dramatically as women age. After menopause, women begin to develop more risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, weight gain, and diabetes. The exact cause isn’t known, but the effect is undeniable: cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women over the age of 65.
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