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Baby’s heart defect risk linked to mom’s early-pregnancy blood sugar levels

For decades, physicians have known that pregnant women with diabetes face a higher risk than non-diabetic women of giving birth to a baby with a congenital heart defect.

And yet most babies born with heart defects do not have a mother with diabetes. This led a team of Stanford researchers to wonder: Could high blood sugar in early pregnancy, during the period when the fetal heart is forming, be linked to risk for congenital heart defects in babies of non-diabetic moms?

The answer is yes, according to a new paper published today in The Journal of Pediatrics. Using medical records from 19,107 mother-baby pairs, the researchers saw that -- after women who had or developed diabetes during pregnancy were excluded from their analysis -- the risk of giving birth to a baby with a heart defect was 8 percent higher for every increase of 10 milligrams per deciliter in blood glucose levels in early pregnancy.

Pediatric cardiologist James Priest, MD, the study's senior author, explained the value of the finding in our press release:

'We could use blood glucose information to select women for whom a screening of the fetal heart could be helpful,' Priest said, adding that modern prenatal imaging allows for detailed diagnoses of many congenital heart defects before birth. 'Knowing about defects prenatally improves outcomes because mothers can receive specialized care that increases their babies’ chances of being healthier after birth.'

Specialized centers such as the Betty Irene Moore Children's Heart Center at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford can offer prenatal care that incorporates a plan for how to safely treat the baby's heart defect after birth, including performing surgery in the first few days of life if necessary.

The new findings should be confirmed by conducting a prospective study that follows a large group of women through pregnancy, Priest said.

Previously: Pinpointing specific cells may help thwart congenital heart disease, new research shows, Teamwork repairs a baby's heart defect and Higher blood sugar in pregnancy tied to heart defects in baby, even if mom isn't diabetic
Photo by Beatnik Photos

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