Women who develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy could be at greater risk of heart disease in later life, according to new research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
The study by experts at Kaiser Permanente Northern California in Oakland found a link between the onset of gestational diabetes and risk of atherosclerosis – a condition that occurs where fatty substances clog up the arteries around the heart,, disrupting the flow of blood to and from the orga, which can eventually cause heart attacks and other forms of cardiovascular disease.
“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,” said study lead author and senior research scientist Erica P. Gunderson.
“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 metabolic syndrome.”
For the study, 898 female participants between the ages of 18 and 30 were initially assessed for risk factors of cardiovascular disease. Over the next 20 years, when the women had at least one birth, they were periodically tested for diabetes and other metabolic conditions, and the thickness of the walls of their carotid arteries was also calculated an average of 12 years after pregnancy to measure atherosclerosis and predict risk of heart attack and stroke.
A total of 13% of the participants went on to develop gestational diabetes and the carotid artery walls of these women were an average of 0.023 mm thicker than those of women who remained diabetes-free during pregnancy.
After accounting for various other factors that might have influenced carotid artery wall thickness, including obesity, the researchers found that concluded that “gestational diabetes may be an early risk factor for heart disease in women”.
Gunderson added,”It’s a shift in thinking about how to identify a subgroup at risk for atherosclerosis early. The concept that reproductive complications unmask future disease risk is a more recent focus.”
1 in 20 women are estimated to be affected by gestational diabetes, which is a type of diabetes mellitus that arises during pregnancy. It usually disappears after pregnancy but raises the risk of type 2 diabetes developing later on in life.

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