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Oct 25, 2017

Gestational Diabetes Increases Women's Risk for Heart Attack and Stroke

The onset of high blood sugar during pregnancy serves as an early warning sign for future heart risks.

Gestational diabetes may be a warning sign for future heart risks in women, based on a recent study that links diabetes during pregnancy to increased risk for heart attack and stroke later in life.

Published in JAMA Internal Medicine, this study looked at the impact of gestational diabetes on future risk for heart disease.

Gestational diabetes is the onset of high blood sugar during pregnancy, which can pose an immediate threat to both mother and baby. While this condition usually resolves after delivery, gestational diabetes is associated with up to a seven-fold higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Many studies have also linked gestational diabetes to increased cardiovascular risk later in life.

To learn more about the link between gestational diabetes and heart disease, researchers analyzed data from the Nurses’ Health Study II, which tracked the health of nearly 90,000 U.S. women for up to 26 years. From 1989–2015, the study regularly collected information on participants’ health via questionnaires and tracked key outcomes including gestational diabetes, type 2 diabetes, heart attack and stroke.

The average age of participants was 35 and all women experienced at least one pregnancy before or during the study.

Overall, 6% of women reported a history of gestational diabetes. Participants experienced a total of 1,161 heart events during the study period. After analysis, researchers found that women with a history of gestational diabetes had 43% greater risk of heart attack and stroke than women without this condition.

However, authors note that overall risk for heart events was low since women were relatively young in this study. Researchers also found that weight loss and the adoption of healthy lifestyle choices helped lessen future heart risks in women with a history of gestational diabetes.

The take-home message, according to experts, is the importance of a healthy lifestyle for women with gestational diabetes. While gestational diabetes appears to increase future heart risks, this risk may be offset by healthy lifestyle choices, such as eating healthy, staying active and losing weight. Together, these steps can help reduce risk for both the development of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Experts also note that improved diabetes screening is needed to provide better treatment for women with a history of gestational diabetes. The American Diabetes Association recommends diabetes screenings before and after pregnancy to improve diagnosis, yet less than 50% of women are tested within 4–12 weeks after delivery. Authors hope that improved screening will help keep women informed about their risk for diabetes and encourage them to adopt a healthier lifestyle after pregnancy.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How can I prevent type 2 diabetes?

  • Although unknown exactly why some individuals develop type 2 diabetes and some don’t, there are some known risk factors for this condition, like being overweight and inactive. There are also risk factors that can’t be controlled, such as family history, age and race.

Infographic: Diabetes

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