Pregnancy at any age can cause stress to the body. From weight gain, hair loss, and back pain, to the risk of developing blood clots or gallstones, being pregnant can definitely negatively affect women's health.
And if you're a teen, you may face even more health problems, as new research suggests that the stress of pregnancy might have a negative impact on the heart.
The study, published Nov. 1 in the Journal of the American Heart Association, found that in a group of more than 1,000 women aged 65 to 74 living in Canada, Brazil, Albania, and Colombia, those who gave birth for the first time before they were 20 had a higher risk of heart disease and stroke later in life.
"Adolescent childbirth may be an important risk marker for cardiovascular disease in women, and one that is worth more investigation and clinical consideration," said Catherine Pirkle, the study's senior author and an assistant professor in health policy and management at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
To help decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, the study's authors suggest women take up physical exercise and maintain a healthy weight. Teen moms in particular should also see their physician for more frequent heart disease screening, Pirkle said.
Despite the study's findings, the authors say it's not clear how being a teen mom can lead to a higher risk of heart disease and stroke, or even if teen pregnancy is a cause of cardiovascular disease in later life.
"Our research and several other teams document an association," Pirkle noted, adding that more research needs to be done to find a clear link. That being said, Pirkle added that she and her team have theories on why teen moms experience poor cardiovascular health later in life, one being that young moms may go through a lot of stress throughout their lifetimes, whether due to lack of education, being in a low-income family, or living under adverse social conditions.
"I think they experience a cascade of adverse life experiences that over time harms their health, with cardiovascular disease being an expression of that harm," Pirkle noted. "For example, adolescent mothers are more likely to drop out of school early and therefore earn less over their lifetimes," she said. "Low educational attainment and low incomes are strongly related to poor health outcomes."
JoAnn Manson, M.D., a professor of medicine and women's health at Harvard Medical School and the chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, noted, "having an adolescent birth often denies women the opportunity for education and career development, which may lead to greater stress and financial adversities."
The study also notes that teens moms are more likely to have unhealthy habits, such as smoking, poor diet, and not getting enough exercise.
"Women who were adolescent moms may need to be more proactive about their cardiovascular health, and clinicians might need to have conversations with women about their childbirth history and also be more careful about cardiovascular screening and follow-up," Pirkle said.
Having an adolescent birth often denies women the opportunity for education and career development, which may lead to greater stress and financial adversities.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 11 per cent of all children worldwide are born to teens ages 15 to 19, and one million girls under 15 give birth every year, most of whom are in low- and middle-income countries.
Teen pregnancy rates have been declining in Canada for the last 25 years, reports the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, however it varies across the provinces and territories, and "has continued to be of significant concern in specific populations including socio-economically disadvantaged teens."
Aside from potential cardiovascular health problems in later life, teen pregnancy can pose increased health risks to both the mother and child. Pregnant teens have a greater risk of developing anaemia, hypertension, eclampsia, and depressive disorders, and their children are more likely to have low birth weights, preterm births, and increased mortality rates, as well as developmental problems.
Knowing this, the study authors note that this is why it's so important that teens don't get pregnant. "Our results simply reinforce that view at a moment in time when women's reproductive rights are being eroded across the U.S., especially regarding access to contraception, which is so important to preventing adolescent pregnancy," they wrote.
"Not to get too political about it, but it really does support the importance of having contraception be accessible to women and providing societal support to women who do have a first birth at an early age," Manson said. "Whether it's through government programs or social support or family efforts, that support is tremendously important."
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