For the millions of women in America who develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy, roughly 10% of all expectant moms, the health risks are real — both for them and their babies. Typically, gestational diabetes goes away after a mom gives birth, but do the health risks disappear? New research suggests not.
Gestational diabetes is a condition in which a woman’s blood sugar levels become high during pregnancy. It affects women who have never been diagnosed with diabetes, and can raise a woman’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
A study involving more than 1,000 women found those with gestational diabetes had a greater risk of developing heart artery calcification, a buildup of calcium that hardens the walls of arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart. This occurred even if the women maintained normal blood sugar levels after pregnancy.
The researchers found, as they expected, that women without gestational diabetes but with high blood sugar levels in the years after pregnancy developed high rates of coronary artery calcification. But, surprisingly, they found those with gestational diabetes had more than a two-fold increased risk for hardened arteries than women without the condition.
The findings, published in the journal Circulation, indicate that gestational diabetes may also foretell other health issues such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, dysfunction in blood vessels and inflammation.
The team recommends health care providers keep a thorough medical history during a woman’s pregnancy and screen anyone who had diabetes during pregnancy for coronary artery disease. The gestational diabetes may have gone away, but other risks may be lurking.