Gestational diabetes—already known as a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes—also might increase a woman’s risk for cardiovascular disease, according to a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
Women with a history of gestational diabetes were found to have thicker walls in their carotid arteries later in life compared with women whose pregnancies had been diabetes-free, the researchers found.
“Pregnancy has been under-recognized as an important time period that can signal a woman’s greater risk for future heart disease,” said Erica P. Gunderson, PhD, MS, MPH, lead author of the study. “This signal is revealed by gestational diabetes, a condition of elevated blood sugar during pregnancy.”
Thickened artery walls indicate a buildup of fatty plaque and a condition called atherosclerosis, which is a risk factor for heart attack and stroke.
Gestational diabetes develops only during pregnancy and usually goes away after birth. Half of women who have it will develop type 2 diabetes later in life, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About the study
The study involved 898 women who had been involved in a previous long-term research project that began in 1985. At that time, the women were ages 18 to 30 and had no history of diabetes or heart disease.
Over the next 20 years, all the women gave birth to at least one child. Their blood glucose levels, weight, cholesterol levels and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease were tracked.
In addition, researchers used ultrasound to measure the thickness of the women’s artery walls about 12 years after the women’s last pregnancy (at about ages 38 to 50).
The researchers found that women who developed gestational diabetes during one or more pregnancies were more likely to have thicker artery walls than women who didn’t have gestational diabetes.
Previous studies have found that a history of gestational diabetes increases a woman’s risk for eventually developing type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, all of which increase her risk for heart disease.
This study found that gestational diabetes increases a woman’s risk for atherosclerosis and heart disease, whether or not she develops metabolic syndrome, the authors wrote.
|The take-home message|
|Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of American women. Identifying women who are at risk for developing the disease can help them take steps to prevent it.
If you develop gestational diabetes, you should know that you may have an increased risk for heart disease. Talk with your doctor about steps you can take in other areas to reduce your risk, such as increasing physical activity, adopting a heart-healthy diet, not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight. You can find more information at the Heart health topic center.