JUL 22, 2018 10:00 AM PDT

Gestational Diabetes Increases Heart Disease Risk in Babies

WRITTEN BY: Caitlin Williams

Gestational diabetes occurs in pregnant women who have high blood glucose (sugar) levels and have not previously had diabetes, usually around the 24th week. A 2014 study from the Center for Disease Control stated that gestational diabetes prevalence is as high as 9.2%. Gestational diabetes can affect both mothers and unborn children, a recent study has shown that gestational diabetes may increase the risk of heart disease in offspring.While the exact cause of gestational diabetes is not known, doctors have some clues to what might contribute. When pregnant, the placenta produces hormones to help the baby develop, but these hormones also block the action of insulin in the mother’s body resulting in insulin resistance. This makes it difficult for the mother’s body to use insulin and may require up to three times as much insulin. Untreated or poorly controlled gestational diabetes can harm the developing baby, despite being later on in pregnancy. The extra blood glucose can cross the placental barrier by giving the baby high blood glucose levels, which leads to increased insulin production. This extra energy is stored as fat, which can lead to macrosomia or “fat” baby. This can lead to damage to shoulders during birth, increased risk for breathing problems, low blood glucose levels at birth, and increased risk for childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes as adults.

Gestational diabetes also increases the risk for developing chronic health complications such as cardiovascular disorders like hypertension, but the mechanisms underlying this development is not clearly understood. Previous studies have found that the protein transgelin is higher in children of women with gestational diabetes. This protein is found in endothelial colony forming cells that line blood vessel walls and regulate cell migration for wound healing and building blood vessel networks. Researchers from the Indiana University School of Medicine published a study in the American Journal of Physiology – Cell Physiology, that evaluated whether transgelin contributes to blood vessel formation dysfunction.

The study utilized umbilical cord blood samples taken at the time of birth from women with gestational diabetes, these were compared with samples from women without pregnancy complications. The cord blood endothelial colony forming cells were analyzed for transgelin levels. Researchers found that the cord blood of the gestational diabetes group had higher transgelin levels, leading to increased dysfunction of blood vessel formation, compared to women with no pregnancy complications. When they decreased transgelin in the diabetes-exposed cells they saw significant improvement in blood vessel network formation.

This work shows that gestational diabetes can affect levels of proteins involved in blood vessel formation which could lead to cardiovascular complications. Limited clinical tools are currently available to assess the severity of diabetic exposure in children born to mothers with gestational diabetes. Early diagnosis could prevent disease later in life when the opportunity for prevention would have passed.

To read this study click here. To learn more about gestational diabetes watch the video below!

American Diabetes Association

About the Author
  • Caitlin holds a doctorate degree in Microbiology from the University of Georgia where she studied Mycoplasma pneumoniae and its glycan receptors. She received her Bachelor's in Biology from Virginia Tech (GO HOKIES!). She has a passion for science communication and STEM education with a goal to improve science literacy. She enjoys topics related to human health, with a particular soft spot for pathogens.
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