Pregnancy Complications Lead to Higher Risk of Heart Problems in Children: Study

The researchers indicate the findings highlight the importance of screening and preventative care for gestational diabetes and pregnancy-related hypertension.

Children born to mothers who have hypertension or gestational diabetes during pregnancy face a greater risk of suffering from heart problems later in life, according to the findings of a new study.

In a report published this week in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, researchers from Ohio University and Northwestern University indicate that individuals experience up to a 20% higher risk of having symptoms of heart trouble later in life, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or being overweight, if their mother had the complications during pregnancy.

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy among women who don’t have diabetes. It can cause the infant to be born preterm, have a higher birth weight, suffer breathing problems, or be stillborn.

Pregnancy-related hypertension is a type of high blood pressure that occurs during pregnancy. While the condition can go away after birth, it can lead to side effects like vision changes, headaches, liver injury, placental problems, and preeclampsia.

Prior studies have linked hypertension during pregnancy to an increased risk of heart disease within a few years of giving birth. That research found that women had an increased risk of coronary artery disease and ischemic stroke after experiencing pregnancy hypertensive conditions, but few studies have examined the risks the pregnancy complications have on the unborn child.

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In this latest study, researchers used data from more than 3,300 mother-child pairs in the Hyperglycemia and Adverse Pregnancy Outcome (HAPO) follow-up study, an international cohort that was followed for 10 years. They focused on the association between hypertensive disorders during pregnancy, gestational diabetes and child cardiovascular health.

Overall, the data indicates 8% of pregnant women developed pregnancy-related hypertension, 12% developed gestational diabetes, and 2.5% developed both pregnancy-related high blood pressure and gestational diabetes.

Children born to mothers with pregnancy-related high blood pressure had a 16% higher likelihood of having cardiovascular symptoms. They also had an 11% higher risk of having heart trouble and cardiovascular symptoms like high cholesterol if their mothers had gestational diabetes during pregnancy.

According to the findings, children had a 20% increased likelihood of having early signs of cardiovascular problems if their mother experienced both pregnancy-related high blood pressure and gestational diabetes during pregnancy.

Among children in the study, 56% had at least one symptom of heart trouble by 11 years old. Additionally, they were more likely to be overweight and diagnosed with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or high blood sugar, compared to children born to mothers who did not have gestational diabetes or pregnancy-related hypertension.

The researchers determined the risk of cardiovascular disease increased based on the severity of the mother’s symptoms during pregnancy.

More Effort Needed to Address Pregnancy Risks

Researchers said the findings of the new study highlight the importance of maintaining a healthy pregnancy and how that relates to keeping children healthy during childhood and adolescence.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued updated guidelines in 2023 calling for pregnant women to be closely screened for hypertension throughout pregnancy.

Additionally, the findings highlight the need for preventative care during pregnancy and early intervention for both mother and child when health conditions are first diagnosed, the researchers concluded.

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