Gestational Diabetes Could Point To Early Risk Factor For Heart Disease
March 14, 2014

Why Pregnant Women Could Have Higher Risk Of Heart Disease

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Scientists writing in the Journal of the American Heart Association say pregnant women may have an increased risk of early heart disease when they develop gestational diabetes.

Researchers working on a 20-year study found that a history of gestational diabetes may be a risk factor for early atherosclerosis in women during midlife before the onset of diabetes and metabolic diseases.

Gestational diabetes develops only during pregnancy and usually disappears after the baby is born. However, this condition increases the risk that the mother will develop diabetes later.

“Our research shows that just having a history of gestational diabetes elevates a woman’s risk of developing early, sub-clinical atherosclerosis before she develops type 2 diabetes or the metabolic syndrome,” Erica P. Gunderson, study lead author and senior research scientist in the Division of Research at Kaiser Permanente Northern California in Oakland, California, said in a statement. “Pregnancy has been under-recognized as an important time period that can signal a woman’s greater risk for future heart disease. This signal is revealed by gestational diabetes, a condition of elevated blood sugar during pregnancy.”

The team measured risk factors for heart disease before pregnancy among 898 women who were 18 to 30 years old. The women were periodically tested for diabetes and metabolic conditions before and after their pregnancies throughout the 20-year study.

Study participants were divided into groups of women who developed gestational diabetes and those who did not. According to the study, 13 percent of the women had developed gestational diabetes overall.

The researchers found a larger average carotid artery intima-media thickness in those who had gestational diabetes compared to those who didn’t. A larger carotid artery media thickness is an early sign of sub-clinical atherosclerosis and can help predict heart attack and stroke in women.

“This finding indicates that a history of gestational diabetes may influence development of early atherosclerosis before the onset of diabetes and metabolic diseases that previously have been linked to heart disease,” Gunderson said. “Gestational diabetes may be an early risk factor for heart disease in women.”

She said that it is important to recognize reproductive characteristics that could be contributing to disease risk in women and may inform early prevention efforts.

“It’s a shift in thinking about how to identify a subgroup at risk for atherosclerosis early,” Gunderson said. “The concept that reproductive complications unmask future disease risk is a more recent focus.”

The team will continue with the research and look at other risk factors involving pregnant women and disease. They said there is currently no uniform national recommendations for screening for heart disease risk factors in pregnancy.