A BABY’S risk of developing a heart defect is increased if the mother has high blood sugar levels during the earliest stages of pregnancy, even in those who do not have diabetes, according to research from Stanford University, California, USA.
In the study, medical records from 19,107 pairs of mothers and babies born between 2009 and 2015 were analysed. Of these, 811 were diagnosed with congenital heart disease. Blood glucose levels collected from the mothers between 4 weeks before the estimated date of conception and the end of the 14th gestational week were looked at in 2,292 women in whom these data were available. Additionally, results of oral glucose tolerance tests performed at around 20 weeks of gestation were observed in 9,511 of the women.
Excluding women who had diabetes prior to, or developed it during pregnancy, the results showed that the risk of a congenital heart defect in babies was elevated by 8% for every 10 mg per decilitre increase of blood glucose levels during the early stages of pregnancy.
The study is the first time researchers have looked at the association between blood sugar levels and babies heart defect risk whilst the fetal heart is still forming, and could lead to new strategies to understand which women are at higher risk for having a baby with a heart defect, such as measuring blood glucose levels in all women during the early stages of pregnancy.
“We could use blood glucose information to select women for whom a screening of the fetal heart may be helpful,” said senior study author Dr James Priest, Stanford University. “Knowing about defects prenatally improves outcomes because mothers can receive specialised care that increases their babies’ chances of being healthier after birth.”
The next step is for researchers to undertake a prospective study of a large group of women through pregnancy to confirm these results.
James Coker, Senior Editorial Assistant
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