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Pregnancy Complications May Harm Child's Heart Health Long-Term
  • Posted February 13, 2024

Pregnancy Complications May Harm Child's Heart Health Long-Term

Two of the most common pregnancy complications for women, high blood pressure and gestational diabetes, could jeopardize the future heart health of their children, a new study suggests. 

Researchers found that the children of women who developed either or both of those conditions during pregnancy showed signs of less-than-ideal heart health before the age of 12. 

"Through our research, we've found an association between diabetes and high blood pressure during pregnancy and indicators of compromised heart health in children on the cusp of adolescence," said study lead author Dr. Kartik Venkatesh, director of the Diabetes in Pregnancy Program at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center. "This underscores the potential for interventions aimed at averting or managing these health issues before they escalate in adulthood."

In the study, his team looked at 3,317 mothers and their children. Among the mothers, 8% developed high blood pressure during pregnancy, 12% developed diabetes and 3% developed both high blood pressure and diabetes. 

Researchers then looked at the heart health of their children between the ages of 10 and 14. They measured factors like body-mass index, blood pressure, total cholesterol and blood sugar levels. They found that before the age of 12, more than half of the children (55.5%) had at least one factor that put them at greater risk for heart disease and stroke.

The findings were published Feb. 12 in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Previous studies have shown these pregnancy complications can up the chances of having to have a C-section or being admitted to the ICU. 

The researchers noted that prevention of these problems is key.

What should expecting moms do? Take aspirin if indicated, avoid excess weight gain, engage in physical activity and maintain a healthy diet during pregnancy.

Still, Dr. Yekaterina Ryzova, a pediatrician in Long Island, N.Y., emphasized the need for further research.

"There is not enough data available to make a conclusion that [these] are the only risk factors for kids' cardiovascular health,"she said, noting that parental health, lifestyle, socioeconomic status and education can also impact children's health.

Venkatesh also stressed that the findings do not mean that the children already have heart disease or that they will be diagnosed with heart disease later in life.

However, he did emphasize that interventions for children, such as obesity prevention, policies to address food insecurity and education on healthy lifestyle choices is key. 

"We know there are social and behavioral factors at play. Future studies should integrate these factors to better understand their impact," Venkatesh said. "But this is an invitation for engagement, education and positive heart health lifestyle changes. It's an opportunity for self-improvement."

More information

Visit the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development for more on pregnancy risks.

SOURCE: Kartik Venkatesh, MD, director, Diabetes in Pregnancy Program, Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center, Columbus, Ohio; Yekaterina Ryzova, MD, pediatrician, Long Island, N.Y.; Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, news release, Feb. 12, 2024

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