Children whose mothers had diabetes before or during pregnancy have an increased risk of developing heart disease by age 40, according to a new study.
The findings "highlight the importance of effective strategies for screening and preventing diabetes in women of childbearing age," said study author Dr. Yongfu Yu and colleagues. Yu is in the clinical epidemiology department at Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark.
For the study, the researchers analyzed data from 2.4 million children who were born in Denmark from 1977 to 2016, and followed for up to 40 years.
Those whose mothers had diabetes before or during pregnancy had a 29% higher risk of early-onset heart disease than those whose mothers did not have diabetes, with rates of about 18% and 13%, respectively.
The study also found that children of mothers with diabetes had higher rates of specific types of heart disease, particularly heart failure (45%), hypertensive disease (78%), deep vein thrombosis (82%) and pulmonary embolism (91%).
Moreover, children of mothers with diabetic complications or with diabetes and a history of heart disease had higher rates of early-onset heart disease than children of mothers with diabetes only, according to the study, which was published Dec. 4 in the BMJ.
Because this was an observational study, it can't establish cause. But it "provides evidence that children of mothers with diabetes, especially those with a history of [heart disease] or with diabetic complications, had increased rates of early-onset [heart disease] throughout the early decades of life," Yu's team said in a journal news release.
The study authors said further research is needed to determine what amount of blood sugar control during pregnancy is needed to minimize the risk of heart disease in children throughout their lives.
Worldwide, the number of women with diabetes before or during pregnancy has increased. Children of these women are more likely to have risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure and high blood sugar levels.