Women who'd given birth before 34 weeks of gestation had the highest levels of total cholesterol at 202.6 mg/dl. Women who gave birth between 34 and 37 weeks had levels of 190.1 mg/dl, and women who carried their babies to term had levels of 180.1 mg/dl.
After adjusting for race, smoking history and body mass index, the researchers found that women who gave birth prematurely had a 2.3 times greater risk of developing cholesterol levels above 240 mg/dl, a level considered high risk by the American Heart Association.
Additionally, women who'd had a preterm birth were 3.3 times more likely to have elevated LDL -- the "bad" cholesterol -- than women who gave birth to full-term babies.
"What this study tells us is that a woman's previous medical history, particularly conditions that happen during pregnancy, may be a clue to her later heart disease risk," said Dr. Nieca Goldberg, director of the New York University Medical Center's Women's Heart Program.
"I would advise a woman who's had a preterm birth and who now has high cholesterol to have her cardiac risk factors evaluated at regular intervals, at least with a yearly physical," said Goldberg.
While Catov said these findings need to be duplicated in a larger study before any specific guidelines or recommendations can be made, she said it's a good idea to "keep your doctor apprised of your medical conditions and preterm births or other adverse pregnancy outcomes, and keep up to date with recommended screenings."
To learn more about cholesterol and how to lower your levels, visit the American Heart Association.
SOURCES: Janet Catov, Ph.D., assistant professor, obstetrics and gynecology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; Nieca Goldberg, M.D., director, New York University Medical Cent
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