Our Review Process
Our articles undergo extensive medical review by board-certified practitioners to confirm that all factual inferences with respect to medical conditions, symptoms, treatments, and protocols are legitimate, canonical, and adhere to current guidelines and the latest discoveries. Read more.
Our Editorial Team
Shifa Fatima, MSc.
Dr. Apoorva T, MHM.
High cholesterol & Pregnancy
It is normal to get high cholesterol in pregnancy as cholesterol levels naturally rise at specific periods throughout pregnancy in order to give nourishment to the developing baby in the womb. Even women who did not have an issue with cholesterol before getting pregnant have a chance of developing high cholesterol during the course of their pregnancy. Similarly, women who had high cholesterol before conceiving are at a much higher risk of developing this during their pregnancy. While this is a normal occurrence, let’s take a look at how cholesterol affects pregnancy.
Table of Contents
Signs & Symptoms Of High Cholesterol During Pregnancy?
Developing high cholesterol in pregnancy is a common occurrence as the body needs more nutrients in order to provide nourishment to the developing baby. These cholesterol levels rise in the second and third trimester and then come back to normal after the baby is born. It is only a matter of concern if these levels do not go down even after the baby has been born. However, this condition will not show any outward signs unless specifically checked for through a lipid panel test.
There aren't really any external symptoms which depict that your cholesterol levels are higher than usual and one might feel as they normally do even with high cholesterol. This is because high cholesterol levels don't create a significant impact on how your body functions. However, if they remain high for an extended period of time, the cholesterol can develop atherosclerosis, which is the buildup of cholesterol and fat in the artery walls. This can lead to a more life threatening risk such as a heart attack or a stroke. It may even cause obesity or diabetes which have several subsequent consequences.
How common is high cholesterol during pregnancy?
In order for the embryo to develop and get all the nutrients required, pregnant women have to make certain changes to their diet. This includes eating a lot more fats than normal as they act as building blocks for the nourishment that developing babies need. Fats contain healthy and unhealthy components and when you're expecting a child, it's not uncommon for your cholesterol levels to be higher than normal. In most people, "normal" cholesterol levels range from 120 to 190 milligrammes per deciliter; but, during pregnancy, these levels can rise to well over 200 milligrammes per deciliter.
This occurrence is more common than you think and isn’t a matter of concern unless your OBGYN tells you otherwise. Studies show that around 78% women go through this during their pregnancy and see their cholesterol levels subsiding 72 hours after the baby has been delivered.
What happens if you have high cholesterol during pregnancy?
Having high cholesterol during pregnancy is considered normal and happens to a lot of women. This does not change the way their bodies function and generally is harmless to the mother and the child. However, research has shown that high levels of maternal cholesterol during pregnancy are associated with an increased risk of premature birth, gestational diabetes, and preeclampsia, in addition to the later development of atherosclerosis in children.
The best way to avoid this is to work with your doctor and understand the several different ways that you can tackle this condition if it starts to affect you and your health.
Can high cholesterol affect the baby during pregnancy?
Increased levels of cholesterol during pregnancy is unlikely to affect the fetus. However, if your total cholesterol levels go too high (above 240 mg per dl), your doctor may want to do additional tests or recheck your levels after your baby is born to make sure that you are not at risk for serious complications. This is to ensure that you are not putting yourself or your baby in danger.
However, in extreme cases of high cholesterol in pregnancy, if the pregnant woman has abnormally high cholesterol which is left untreated, it can lead to pregnancy-induced hypertension, which can put both the mother and the unborn child at risk of death. A cholesterol deficiency might bring on preterm labor as well as a low birth weight.
Is it safe to take cholesterol-lowering medicines during pregnancy
Having higher than usual cholesterol levels during pregnancy is a normal occurrence and not something to worry about. Normally, medication is not prescribed to treat this condition as it is known to have potential risks such as causing stillbirth and low birth weight. But if your doctor decides and deems it necessary for your particular case, you may take cholesterol lowering medications for a short while. Avoid self medicating at all costs.
Which cholesterol medicines are safe to take during pregnancy?
At the moment, bile acid sequestrants are the only medicines that can be taken while pregnant. This is because they are not absorbed into the body, so they are not thought to harm the baby. High triglycerides and constipation are side effects that make it hard to use.
- Mipomersen drug, which is an antisense inhibitor of APoB synthesis, can be given as an injection to HoFH (i.e. homozygous familial hypercholesterolemia) women who are pregnant.
- Lipoprotein apheresis is another procedure that is said to be safe for very high-risk pregnant women with significant atherosclerosis or HoFH.
A healthy lifestyle with a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet and regular exercise is strongly recommended before, during, and after pregnancy.
How is high cholesterol treated during pregnancy?
Even though high cholesterol during pregnancy is a normal thing, it is rarely ever treated with the help of medication. Doctors actively avoid the use of medication as their effects are unpredictable during pregnancy and can cause several harmful after effects and affect childbirth. Unless there are severe cardiovascular risks, medication is avoided.
It is generally advised to follow a healthy diet that is rich in good cholesterol and proteins, fiber and healthy fruits and vegetables. Doctors also recommend doing low intensity workouts and getting some amount of physical activity throughout the day. Make sure you get your workout plan approved by your doctor as high intensity workouts can cause harm to the fetus.
The natural elevation in cholesterol levels in most women shouldn't cause them any reason for concern. After birth, levels will typically recover to their normal ranges during the first four to six weeks on average. The risk of developing cardiovascular disease and stroke is increased when someone has high cholesterol for an extended period of time. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have high cholesterol even before you become pregnant. Because it is possible that some cholesterol-lowering medications should not be used during pregnancy, he or she will either propose that you switch medications or work with you to develop additional strategies for controlling your cholesterol levels.
There are some general things that a person can do to reduce their cholesterol, even when they are not pregnant. This includes the following:
- Increasing one's level of physical activity
- consuming more fiber in food.
- consuming good fats, such as those found in nuts and avocados
- consuming less fried meals and foods heavy in carbohydrates and saturated fats will improve your health.
- incorporating into your diet foods or supplements that are high in omega-3
- Exercising for at least 30 mins at low intensity for pregnant women and 45 mins at moderate intensity for people who are not pregnant.
It is normal and common to experience high levels of cholesterol in pregnancy and is not a matter of concern. These don’t normally show any outward signs and symptoms unless a lipid profile test is conducted. Abnormally high levels of cholesterol during pregnancy can severely raise the risk of stillbirth and low birth weight as well as cause hypertension among patients. It is advised to not take cholesterol lowering medication during pregnancy as it is considered unsafe. The best way to tackle this issue is by eating healthy and getting some physical activity throughout the day. With the help of your doctor you can understand your condition better and deal with it accordingly.
What's dangerously high cholesterol?
If a person's total cholesterol level is more than 240 mg/dL, their LDL levels are higher than 160 mg/dL (190 mg/dL is even higher risk), and their HDL level is lower than 40 mg/dL, they are regarded to be at high risk for developing heart disease.
Can a pregnant woman take cholesterol medicine?
No, it is not recommended that pregnant women take cholesterol medication during their pregnancy as it can affect the fetus resulting in stillbirth or low birth weight. In only extreme cases do doctors recommend taking cholesterol medication to pregnant women.
How long does it take for cholesterol to normalize after pregnancy?
Cholesterol levels rise during pregnancy in order to provide the developing fetus nourishment and is considered normal. However, if a person did not have cholesterol issues before pregnancy their levels are expected to return to previous levels after 72 hours of the delivery and 4-6 weeks in patients that had high cholesterol even before getting pregnant.
Can high cholesterol cause stillbirth?
Yes, having abnormally high cholesterol can cause stillbirth in some cases, especially when it is left untreated.
This website's content is provided only for educational reasons and is not meant to be a replacement for professional medical advice. Due to individual differences, the reader should contact their physician to decide whether the material is applicable to their case.