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Apr 19, 2013

Diabetes During Pregnancy Increases Cardiovascular Risk Later in Life

Women with high blood sugar levels during pregnancy are at greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and metabolic syndrome.

As many as 10% of women are known to develop high blood sugar levels during pregnancy, known as gestational diabetes. In most cases, expecting mothers can help control their sugar levels during pregnancy by staying active and eating right, and their blood sugar will go back to normal soon after delivery. But that doesn’t mean that women experiencing gestational diabetes are in the clear after giving birth, and a recent review published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology stresses the importance of better detection, tracking and awareness of this condition.

Led by Dr. Shireen Brewster of Mount Sinai Hospital in Canada, researchers reviewed a number of studies looking at the impact of gestational diabetes on women’s health later in life. Overwhelmingly, researchers found that women developing diabetes or even slightly abnormal blood sugar levels during pregnancy had significant greater cardiovascular risk down the road. Not only are these women much more likely to develop type 2 diabetes within 20 years of pregnancy, they’re at greater risk for high blood pressurehigh cholesterol and metabolic syndrome—a clustering of conditions that greatly increase risk for heart disease. And most concerning, they’re more likely to develop heart disease earlier in life than other women.

Based on these findings, experts stress the importance of testing blood sugar in pregnant women. We need to identify which tests are most useful in detecting abnormal blood sugar levels and how often these tests should be performed. The American Diabetes Association currently advises testing blood sugar in all pregnant women during their third trimester, but additional steps need to be taken to put these recommendations into practice. Also, healthcare providers need to do a better job of monitoring women’s health more closely if they developed abnormal blood sugar during pregnancy. Women developing diabetes or even slightly abnormal blood sugar levels during pregnancy need to understand how it can impact their health down the road and take steps to reduce their risk for diabetes and heart disease. Through additional research and increased awareness for gestational diabetes, we can lessen the impact that this condition has on health later in life and keep women healthier, longer.
Read the full article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is gestational diabetes?
  • Gestational diabetes occurs when women develop abnormally high blood sugar levels during pregnancy. In most cases, expecting mothers can help control their sugar levels during pregnancy by staying active and eating right, and their blood sugar will go back to normal soon after delivery. However, women with a history of gestational diabetes or abnormal blood sugar levels during pregnancy have increased risk of developing diabetes and heart disease later in life.
  • How is gestational diabetes treated?
  • In most cases, women developing diabetes during pregnancy can control their blood sugar levels through lifestyle changes, like eating right and staying active. However, some women require insulin therapy to control their condition.

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