Increased risk of heart disease for mothers with more than 4 children

4 June 2018        

Category: Research

7 children playing on a sofa surrounded by mess

The more children a mother has, the greater her risk of heart attack, stroke and heart failure, according to research funded by us and presented today at the British Cardiovascular Society Conference in Manchester.

Researchers from the Universities of Cambridge and North Carolina studied data from over 8,000 White and African-American women from the United States, aged 45-64 years. They found that having 5 or more children is associated with a 40% increased risk of a serious heart attack in the next 30 years, compared to having just 1 or 2 children, after taking into account how long the women breastfed for. 

Having 5 or more children was also associated with a 30% increased risk of heart disease – the major cause of heart attacks – as well as a 25% increased risk of stroke and a 17% increase in the risk of heart failure compared to having 1-2 children. Having 3-4 children was also associated with a modest increased risk of serious health implications, but the research found that the most significant risk increases were seen with 5 or more children. 

Jules Conjoice has 4 children and had a heart attack at just 46:

“When I had my first heart attack, the paramedics initially told me it was a panic attack. But I’m a mother of four – I don’t panic, so I knew there was something more serious going on. Sure enough, I later found out I’d had a heart attack and it was a total shock.

“As a busy mother, I’m always putting my family first and looking after my health can take a back seat sometimes. I hope research like this brings it home to busy mothers and fathers that it’s important to look after themselves as much as they care for their families.”

Our Associate Medical Director, Professor Jeremy Pearson said: 

“Research like this reminds us that – regardless of the stereotype of the overweight, middle-aged man having a heart attack – heart disease strikes men and women alike. As the major cause of heart attacks and strokes, heart disease cruelly tears families apart. Research like this can help us understand who is at the highest risk of heart attacks and it’s vital we continue to fund more life-saving research into heart disease to keep families together.”

Dr Clare Oliver-Williams who led the research at the University of Cambridge said:

“The aim of my research is not to scare women but to bring to their attention as early as possible whether they might be at increased risk of heart attacks. We know that pregnancy and childbirth put a tremendous strain on the heart, and raising children can be very stressful, too. We don’t want to add to the stress people have in their everyday lives but equip them with the knowledge to do something about it.”

“The number of children a woman has had is an easy sign of whether a woman is at greater risk. We all know it’s hard to take care of your health when you have children, but hopefully this research can help show how important it is and, perhaps, having children can provide some extra motivation.”

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