Diabetes in mothers raises risk of children having heart disease

Mothers-to-be with diabetes ‘face a greater risk of their children getting heart disease’

  •  Scientists followed 2.4million children born in Denmark for 40 years
  • Rates of early onset heart disease rose by 29% in people with diabetic mothers
  • High glucose level has major implications for the development of a baby’s heart

Mothers-to-be with diabetes may put their children at greater risk of heart disease, according to a study of 2.4million children. 

Youngsters born to mothers diagnosed with the condition before pregnancy had a 34 per cent increased risk of early onset heart disease.

And those born to mothers who developed gestational diabetes – when they became pregnant – were 19 per cent more likely to suffer heart problems. 

The odds were raised throughout the whole 40-years study period, according to the study published in the British Medical Journal.

Danish scientists said the chances were highest among the children of mothers who suffered diabetic complications, such as kidney disease.

And the Aarhus University Hospital team warned there was no difference between whether a mother had type 1 or 2 diabetes.

High glucose levels in early pregnancy has major implications for the development of a baby’s heart, they argued.  

However, the results were merely observational and not causal. Further trials are needed, the academics said. 

Mothers-to-be struck down with diabetes before or during pregnancy put their children at greater risk of heart disease, a study of 2.4million children shows

It is already known that gestational diabetes can cause problems such as pre-eclampsia, premature or stillbirth. 

Children of these women are more likely to have risk factors for future heart disease, such as high blood pressure and high blood sugar levels.


Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that affects pregnant women, usually during the second or third trimester.

Women with gestational diabetes do not have diabetes before their pregnancy. It usually goes away after the birth.

It occurs when the hormones produced during pregnancy make it difficult for your body to use insulin properly, putting you at an increased risk of insulin resistance.

Treatment focuses on managing blood sugar levels through diet, exercise and sometimes medication.

Women can significantly reduce their risk of developing gestational diabetes by managing their weight, eating healthily and keeping active.

Figures estimate one in five women will develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy. 

Source: Diabetes UK

But it is unclear whether exposure to diabetes in the womb increases the risk of developing heart disease over a lifetime.

Study author Dr Yongfu Yu and colleagues used national registry data for children born without congenital heart disease in Denmark from 1977 to 2016. 

Diabetes was categorised as pregestational – before pregnancy – or gestational. Women with any number of diabetic complications were identified.

Other potentially influential factors, such as mother’s age, education, lifestyle and medical history were also taken into account. 

Dr Yu said: ‘Our study provides evidence that children of mothers with diabetes… had increased rates of early onset CVD throughout the early decades of life.’ 

Rates of heart failure, hypertensive disease, deep vein thrombosis, and pulmonary embolism were all higher among children born to diabetic mothers.

The findings also showed the risks were even higher for mothers who had a history of cardiovascular disease.   

The authors cannot rule out the possibility that the results were due to factors they hadn’t looked at. 

Further studies will try and find a degree of blood sugar control during pregnancy that would slash the risk of heart disease. 

Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death worldwide. Figures also show the prevalence in young people is increasing.

And the number of people with diabetes – mainly type 2 – continues to soar globally, amid a worldwide obesity epidemic. 

There were 108million people with diabetes in 1980 compared with to 422million in 2014, the World Health Organisation states.

According to the International Diabetes Federation, one in three women with the condition in 2017 were of child-bearing age. 

A HbA1c test measures blood glucose levels over a period of three months. Normal results are below 42 mmol/mol while 48 mmol/mol indicated diabetes.  


A lack of support is leaving pregnant women with diabetes at risk of serious complications, a leading charity has warned today.

Diabetes UK say seven out of eight women with diabetes were still not achieving NICE-recommended risk-reducing pregnancy preparations.

These include making sure blood glucose levels are at a safe level two to three months before getting pregnant or as soon as woman are aware they are expecting.

The charity’s findings are based on data from the 2017/2018 National pregnancy in Diabetes (NPID) audit for for England, Wales and the Isle of Man.

Between 2017/2018, 170 out of 8,255 pregnancies recorded in the NPID resulted in stillbirth or neonatal death.

This would suggest women with diabetes three to four times more likely to experience such serious complications when compared to the general population in England and Wales. 

Considering more than 50 per cent of pregnant women with type 2 diabetes recorded in the audit being from non-white backgrounds, and over 60 per cent were living in some of the poorest areas, the charity also said action was needed to support women from these groups.

Nikki Joule, policy manager at Diabetes UK, said: ‘The audit highlights that women with diabetes – regardless of whether they live with type 1 or type 2 diabetes – are still at a far greater risk of serious pregnancy and child birth complications. This needs to change, and clinicians can lead the way in turning the tide.

‘We’ve seen progress in this area – such as the decision to roll out Continuous Glucose Monitoring devices for pregnant women in England with type 1 diabetes – which is a positive move.

‘But service-wide interventions need to be made to reduce the number of devastating pregnancy complications for all women with diabetes.

‘We know that more women are developing type 2 at a younger age, so it’s also important that healthcare professionals raise the issue with this group – and the steps they can take to have the safest pregnancy possible – before they begin trying to conceive.’

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