Women who develop hypertension or diabetes during pregnancy are more likely to give birth to children who develop conditions that can compromise their heart health at a young age, scientists reported Monday.

By age 12, these children are more likely to be overweight or have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or high blood sugar, compared to children whose mothers had uncomplicated pregnancies.

The research highlights the strong association between healthy pregnancies and children’s health, although the study fails to prove a cause-and-effect relationship. The findings also support the “fetal origins of adult disease” hypothesis, which suggests that many chronic diseases may have their roots in fetal adaptations to the uterine environment.

The findings come from a government-funded study that followed an international cohort of 3,300 mother-child pairs for more than a decade. The research was presented at the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine’s annual pregnancy meeting in National Harbor, Maryland. A summary has been published in a supplement to the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in January.

“This creates a potentially vicious cycle for children, in which the child is at greater risk of cardiovascular disease, and when these girls become women and become pregnant themselves, they are already more likely to have hypertension and diabetes more severe during pregnancy,” said Dr. Kartik K. Venkatesh, first author of the article, an obstetrician and perinatal epidemiologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.

The findings indicate the urgency of preventative care and early intervention, both during pregnancy and in early childhood, to stop the cycle, he added.

“The impact on children will be decades away, so the question arises: what can we do here and now to preserve their cardiovascular health throughout their lives? » said Dr. Venkatesh.

“Can we detect abnormalities in cardiovascular health early, so we can treat them and implement interventions that can change long-term outcomes?

Women planning a pregnancy could also benefit from care even before they conceive, he added. More and more women begin pregnancy with conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes that increase the risk of heart disease. This is partly because women are postponing motherhood until later in life.

Of the 3,317 pregnant women participating in the study, 263 (8%) developed pregnancy-related high blood pressure, 402 (12%) had gestational diabetes, and 82 (2.5%) were diagnosed with these two conditions during pregnancy.

By age 12, those whose mothers had high blood pressure during pregnancy have a 16% higher risk of having an indicator of a heart problem, such as high cholesterol or being overweight, compared to those born to mothers without complications.

Children born to mothers with gestational diabetes were 11% more likely to have such an indicator, the researchers found. And children of mothers with both conditions were nearly 20 percent more likely to show early signs of cardiovascular problems.

Dr. Rachel M. Bond, a cardiologist and director of women’s heart health systems at Dignity Health in Chandler, Ariz., said the findings were important and could lead to earlier detection and treatment of heart disease in women. children.

“I think this will really change pediatric guidelines and how we care for patients,” Dr. Bond said. “If your mother had a bad outcome during her pregnancy, we may need to get you tested sooner. “We need to encourage people to know their family health history, including any complications their mothers had during pregnancy. »

Although there are no such guidelines yet, she added, “we are starting the conversation.”

Dr. Annette Ansong, deputy chief of outpatient cardiology at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., said she began incorporating questions about maternal health during pregnancy when she considered her children’s medical histories. young patients.

“I started asking the patient’s parents, ‘When you were pregnant, did you have preeclampsia, hypertension, or diabetes?’ I haven’t done it before, and I guess the majority of doctors don’t do it,” Dr. Ansong said.

“With a family history, you focus more or less on the parents, the aunts and uncles, the grandparents, and what we don’t usually ask is, ‘What was happening in utero, in the mom’s belly?'” she added.

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