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Diabetes During Pregnancy can Raise Heart Disease Risk Later on In Life

Update Date: Mar 12, 2014 04:04 PM EDT

Gestational diabetes is diabetes that occurs only during pregnancy and typically disappears after the pregnancy is over even though some women have an increased risk of getting the disease later on in life. In a new study, researchers examined the effects of gestational diabetes and women's heart health. They found that pregnant women with diabetes have an increased risk of early heart disease.

"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," said Erica P. Gunderson, Ph.D., M.S., M.P.H., study lead author and senior research scientist in the Division of Research at Kaiser Permanente Northern California in Oakland, CA. "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."

For this 20-year study, researchers analyzed data on 898 female participants between the ages of 18 and 30 taken from the CARDIA study (Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults). At the beginning of the study, when the participants were not pregnant, the researchers assessed the women's risk for heart disease. Throughout the study, when the women had at least one birth, they were periodically tested for diabetes and other metabolic conditions. The researchers specifically assessed carotid artery wall thickness an average of 12 years after pregnancy.

After controlling for number of births, age, race, pre-pregnancy body-mass-index (BMI), fasting blood glucose, insulin, lipids and blood pressure, the researchers found that a history of gestational diabetes could be tied to a thicker carotid artery intima-media. 119 women, who made up 13 percent of the sample, had gestational diabetes. These women had carotid artery intima-media thickness that was on average 0.023 mm larger than women without gestational diabetes. The researchers concluded that the thickness was not caused by obesity. At the end of the study, a total of 13 women suffered from some kind of cardiovascular event. Only one of them was from the gestational diabetes group.

"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."

The study was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

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