Pregnant women may face an increased risk of early heart disease when they develop gestational diabetes, according to research in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
Gestational diabetes, which develops only during pregnancy and usually disappears after the pregnancy, increases the risk that the mother will develop diabetes later. The condition is managed with meal planning, activity and sometimes insulin or other medications.
In the 20-year study, researchers 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 (diabetes during pregnancy) increases risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes later in life
“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, Calif. “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 study was conducted over a 20-year period, analyzing 898 women from four urban areas around the United States, starting at ages 18 to 30 years old, who later had one or more births.
“[The] 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.”
It’s important to recognize reproductive characteristics that may contribute to disease risk in women and may inform early prevention efforts, Gunderson said.
“It’s a shift in thinking about how to identify a subgroup at risk for atherosclerosis early,” she said. “The concept that reproductive complications unmask future disease risk is a more recent focus.”
Gunderson plans to continue following this line of research and investigating other risk factors involving pregnant women and disease. At present, there are no uniform national recommendations for screening for heart disease risk factors in pregnancy to determine risk of later heart disease.
Learn more about pregnancy and heart disease on Go Red For Women.