A new report from the American Heart Association suggests that gestational diabetes — or high blood sugar levels noticed during a pregnancy — can lead to heart disease. The good news: doctors say the condition can be managed through diet and exercise.
The term ‘gestational diabetes’ applies to women who have never had diabetes before experiencing high blood glucose levels during pregnancy. It is not a rare problem, with recent studies showing that nearly one in five women develop gestational diabetes while pregnant.
Now, new research has revealed that the problem can have long-term consequences. “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,” noted Dr. Erica P. Gunderson, a senior research scientist at Kaiser Permanente Northern California and lead author of the AHA report.
The AHA’s findings were based on a 20-year study of 900 women who were regularly tested for diabetes before and during their pregnancies. In total, 119 of the women developed gestational diabetes.
The researchers found that these women were more likely to develop atherosclerosis, which involves plaque building up inside the arteries. In time these blockages can impede blood flow and damage the heart.
“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.
Gunderson’s team says that the condition can be controlled through a healthy diet, exercise, and consistent monitoring by patient and doctor.
The AHA study is now available in the Journal of the American Heart Association.