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Study: Pregnancy diabetes could mean earlier heart disease

Doctors have known for some time that women who develop pregnancy-related diabetes — known as gestational diabetes — are far more likely to get full-blown type 2 diabetes years down the road than women who don’t develop the condition when pregnant. But new research suggests that the 2 to 10 percent of pregnant women who get gestational diabetes may also be at a higher risk of developing earlier heart disease.

In the study published last Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers followed nearly 900 healthy young women for 20 years and found that those who previously had gestational diabetes were more likely to have thickened arteries on an imaging test — an early sign of heart disease — by the time they reached their late 30s to late 40s compared to those who never had the condition.

Women typically develop heart disease in their 60s, about a decade later than men, due to female hormones that protect them through menopause.


“We found evidence of early heart disease in those who had gestational diabetes even if they weren’t obese or didn’t have type 2 diabetes,” said study leader Erica Gunderson, a senior research scientist at Kaiser Permanente Northern California in Oakland, Calif.

She added that doctors should consider closer heart disease monitoring in women with a history of gestational diabetes. Regular blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol screenings are key along with counseling to help the women maintain a healthy weight. D.K.

Deborah Kotz can be reached at dkotz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.