WASHINGTON, DC (June 2, 2022)—Although those who give birth at a later age face higher risks of adverse pregnancy outcomes compared to their younger counterparts, little research has explored whether older maternal age is associated with worse health later in life. In a study selected as the Editor's Choice for the May/June issue of Women's Health Issues, authors examined whether those who gave birth for the first time at age 35 or older had a greater risk of cardiovascular disease after age 42.
Women’s Health Issues is the official journal of the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health, which is based in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) at the George Washington University.
Carrie Wolfson and colleagues at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health used data from the Nurses’ Health Study II, which enrolled female nurses from 14 states and surveyed them every two years. The authors identified more than 70,000 participants who reported a first birth in the 2000 or 2009 survey and categorized them as having advanced maternal age (approximately 8%) or not. In the same group of women, they then identified reports of myocardial infarction (i.e., heart attack) and stroke between age 42 and the return of the 2015 questionnaire, when the participants ranged in age from 53 to 71 years. They then examined the association between advanced maternal age at first birth and later-in-life cardiovascular disease, controlling for race/ethnicity, parents’ and spouses’ education, and various health characteristics.
Women who first gave birth at an advanced maternal age had less of a risk of experiencing CVD during the follow-up period than women who gave birth for the first time before age 35, Wolfson and colleagues found. The finding is somewhat surprising given that advanced maternal age is associated with a greater risk of poor health outcomes at the time of birth, such as gestational hypertension and preeclampsia, they note, but one possible explanation is that participants in this study who were able to conceive later in life had better overall health or more advantages. Results could be different in studies that enroll participants giving birth in the current era, they point out, because a greater share of the population is giving birth at later ages and has access to assisted reproductive technologies – so the population giving birth at advanced maternal age today differs from the population giving birth at age 35 or older in this sample.
“Given that heart disease is the leading cause of death in women, it’s important to examine risk factors so women can make informed decisions,” said Amita Vyas, Editor-in-Chief of Women's Health Issues and associate professor of prevention and community health at Milken Institute SPH. “The fact that this study did not find a greater risk for cardiovascular disease among women who gave birth at later ages is reassuring.”
“Advanced Maternal Age and Its Association With Cardiovascular Disease in Later Life” has been published in the May/June 2022 issue of Women’s Health Issues.