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Gestational diabetes may raise risk for future heart disease

According to a statement from the American Heart Association, gestational diabetes — a¬†condition characterized by high blood sugar levels that is first recognized during pregnancy — may increase risk for heart disease in midlife. Fortunately, the condition can be controlled with meal planning, activity and occasionally insulin or other types of medications.

“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,” posited lead author Erica P. Gunderson, Ph.D., M.S., M.P.H., senior research scientist in the Division of Research at Kaiser Permanente Northern California.

At the beginning of the study, researchers determined risk factors for heart disease before pregnancy among nearly 900 women, who later had one or more kids. The women were regularly tested for diabetes and metabolic conditions before and after their pregnancies throughout the 20-year period. Overall, 119 women reported they had developed gestational diabetes.

Among the women who did not go on to develop diabetes during the 2o-year period, researchers discovered a 0.023 mm bigger average carotid artery intima-media thickness in those who had gestational diabetes versus those who didn’t , and the difference was not linked to obesity or higher glucose levels before pregnancy.

“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 noted.

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, atherosclerosis is a disease in which plaque builds up inside your arteries. Arteries are blood vessels that transport oxygen-rich blood to your heart and other parts of your body.

The study’s findings are described in greater detail in the Journal of the American Heart Association.