Could Your Blood Sugar Levels Predict Your Baby's Heart Defect Risk?

According to a new study, expectant mothers should have their blood sugar checked during pregnancy to bring down infant risk of congenital heart defects. 

Gestational Diabetes and Congenital Heart Disease Shutterstock
If you're an expectant mother, chances are you're worrying about all the things you can do to ensure your children are born with no complications. That's why this piece of news is so important: A simple test can help you take steps to reduce your child's risk of being born with a serious heart defect, according to new research presented at the American Heart Association's annual meeting.

Stanford University researchers determined that if a woman's blood sugar is elevated, her children have a greater chance of having congenital heart defects. Researchers looked at over 19,000 pregnant women during their first trimesters and found that those with gestational diabetes had far greater odds of giving birth to babies with these defects. Though this particular study didn't find a true cause-and-effect relationship between the two factors, there's reason to believe a relationship might exist.

"We're pretty familiar with the fact that diabetes is an independent risk factor for congenital heart disease," Jason James, M.D., chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology
at Baptist Hospital of Miami told Fit Pregnancy. "So I think there is a pretty defined causative relationship between uncontrolled blood sugar and these defects. Sometimes patients come to us with poor nutrition or obesity, [which are] risk factors for diabetes. If they come in during pregnancy, we'll screen them for diabetes and one of the tests that we'll us an estimate of their blood glucose levels. If their levels are elevated, that also is a risk factor for congenital heart disease."

This research could pave the way for additional testing for pregnant women, which to help reduce the rate of congenital heart defects. At this point, this is the most common birth defect of all, affecting about 8 of every 1,000 births, according to the study's release.

The good news? If this does appear to be an issue for you, it's fairly easy to reduce the risks by implementing some lifestyle changes. According to Dr. James, controlling blood sugar is something many patients can do on their own. He advises avoiding high carbohydrate meals and increasing exercise, but these changes won't be enough for everyone. "Some diabetics may require medication, either orally or in the form of insulin," he said. "But pretty much anyone who is identified as having gestational diabetes requires blood glucose monitoring."