Purpose of review: This review describes how the physiological demands of pregnancy act as a maternal stress test that can predict a woman's health in later life. Pregnancy transiently catapults a woman into a metabolic syndrome that predisposes to vascular endothelial dysfunction. Women who are already predisposed to this phenotype develop gestational hypertension or diabetes mellitus, which re-emerge in later life as the metabolic syndrome returns. Pregnancy can also temporarily unmask sub-clinical disease, which may return in later life when the effects of ageing diminish the limited reserves of a vulnerable organ.
Recent findings: Recent studies have attempted to assess how gestational syndromes affect the risk for a woman of developing a diverse range of diseases in later life. As well as cardiovascular disease and diabetes mellitus, pregnancy can reveal a vulnerability to thyroid and pituitary disorders, liver and renal disease, depression, thrombosis and even cancer.
Summary: Although our knowledge of this phenomenon is incomplete, women who have had gestational syndromes, in particular pregnancy-induced hypertension/preeclampsia or gestational diabetes, should make lifestyle changes that will reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease in later life.