Children Born to Mothers With Pregnancy Complications Face Higher Heart Risks

Women who develop high blood pressure or diabetes in the course of pregnancy are more likely to give birth to children who develop conditions that may compromise their own heart health at a young age, scientists reported on Monday.

By the time they are 12 years old, these children are more likely to be overweight or to be diagnosed with high blood pressure, high cholesterol or high blood sugar, compared with children whose mothers had complication-free pregnancies.

The research underscores the strong association between healthy pregnancies and child health, though the study stops short of proving a cause-and-effect relationship. The conclusions also offer support for the “fetal origins of adult disease” hypothesis, which suggests that many chronic conditions may have roots in fetal adaptations to the uterine environment.

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

“It sets up a potentially vicious cycle for the children, where the child is at higher risk for cardiovascular disease, and then when these girls become women and get pregnant themselves, they’re already more likely to have more severe hypertension and diabetes in pregnancy,” said Dr. Kartik K. Venkatesh, the paper’s first author, an obstetrician and perinatal epidemiologist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.

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

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