The small study looked into why twice as many women as men have “stiff heart syndrome,” a disease which involves healthy tissue being replaced by protein deposits.
Lead researcher Dr Anna Beale analysed the heart pressure of 58 Victorian women in their 60’s and 70’s both during exercise and at rest. Interestingly, she found that those who had at least three children weren’t able to exert themselves as long as the other participants. They also experienced more pressure build up in their hearts during periods of movement and had stiffer arteries, particularly in their lungs.
“All of these findings together suggest they have a more severe type of stiff heart syndrome and it explains the common symptoms of becoming extremely breathless with minimal exercise,” Dr Beale said.
She puts this down to the fact that our blood flow increases by 30-50 per cent during pregnancy. “It’s associated with significant changes to the heart muscle, and vessels in the body have to adapt,” she explained. “We hypothesised that because the heart has to change for pregnancy and it changes back, and if you repeatedly do this, this then leads to stiffening of the heart muscle.”
As this type of heart disease has only come to the attention of doctors in the last decade, treatment options are currently limited and not especially effective. Still, in an interview with Sunrise, Dr Ginni Mansberg explained that stiff heart syndrome is “extremely rare” and advised mothers not to “lose too much sleep” over these findings.
Instead, she believes women should focus on maintaining good heart health in general, which is best done through exercising daily, eating well and avoiding smoking.