Best lipid levels in pregnancy still unclear



As ob.gyns., we often focus on optimizing our patients’ reproductive health. Research has shown, however, that the condition of a woman’s health prior to conception can be just as – if not more – important to her pregnancy and her lifelong well-being. For example, we have established that women who take the daily recommended dose of folic acid (400 mcg), even outside of pregnancy, have a reduced risk for neural tube defects in their infants.

Last year, we devoted a series of Master Class columns to the crucial need to properly manage maternal weight gain and blood sugar levels before, during, and after gestation to improve pregnancy outcomes. We also have seen that intensive glycemic and weight control in women can reduce their risk of fetal and maternal complications.

Dr. E. Albert Reece

Dr. E. Albert Reece

However, the leading causes of morbidity and mortality remain cardiovascular diseases, both in the developing and developed world. One of the key contributors to poor heart and vascular health is high cholesterol. Although the body needs cholesterol, just as it needs sugar, excess lipids in the blood can lead to infarction and stroke.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the desirable total cholesterol levels, including low- and high-density lipids and triglycerides, for men and nonpregnant women fall below 200 mg/dL. What remain less clear are the desired lipid levels for pregnant women.

We have known for decades that cholesterol concentrations increase during pregnancy, possibly by as much as 50%. We do not, however, have a firm understanding of what may constitute normally higher lipid concentrations and what may signal risk to the health of the baby or mother. Additionally, while we may run a lipid panel when we order a blood test, ob.gyns. do not routinely monitor a women’s cholesterol.

Since excess lipids, obesity, and heart disease often occur in the same patient and have become increasingly prevalent in our society, it may be time to reexamine any correlations between maternal lipid levels and adverse pregnancy outcomes.

To comment on this reemerging area, we invited Dr. Arnon Wiznitzer, professor and chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Helen Schneider Hospital for Women and deputy director of the Rabin Medical Center, Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv University. Dr. Wiznitzer’s extensive experience working with women who have diabetes in pregnancy led him to examine other comorbidities, including lipids, which might confound good pregnancy outcomes.

Dr. Reece, who specializes in maternal-fetal medicine, is vice president for medical affairs at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, as well as the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and dean of the school of medicine. Dr. Reece said he had no relevant financial disclosures. He is the medical editor of this column. Contact him at

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