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Study: Diabetes, Birth Defects Linked

Researchers Say Women With Diabetes More Likely to Have Babies With Birth Defects

Diabetes and Birth Defects continued...

While diabetes contracted before pregnancy was associated with a wide range of birth defects, diabetes that came on during pregnancy was associated with a limited group of birth defects, Correa's team found.

In general, he says, women who got gestational diabetes tended to have children with birth defects only if their pre-pregnancy BMI had been 25 or higher.

Among the defects in children born to women with diabetes are heart problems, brain and spinal defects, oral clefts, kidney and gastrointestinal tract defects, and limb deficiencies.

Diabetes diagnosed before pregnancy was linked with about 50% of the birth defect categories analyzed.

Role of High Blood Sugar

Exactly why pre-pregnancy diabetes boosted birth defects risk so much isn't known. But experts say that high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) plays a role.

For instance, in animal studies cited by the researchers, a mother's high glucose (blood sugar) has been found to lead to the same in the embryo, causing biochemical abnormalities that increase oxidative stress and could lead to incomplete closing of the neural tube, in turn causing such neural tube defects as spina bifida.

"The new research confirms some early studies," says Janis Biermann, a spokeswoman for the March of Dimes who reviewed the study for WebMD. But the research also goes beyond that earlier research, she says, by studying a much larger group and by going into more detail about a variety of birth defects.

Women should take the new research as a call to take better care of themselves, Biermann says, to do what they can to reduce the risks.

Women shouldn't think birth defects are inevitable if they have diabetes before getting pregnant, she says. "Just because there is an increased risk of a baby having a birth defect if a woman has preconception diabetes doesn't mean it is going to happen. It just means there is a greater chance than if a woman doesn't have it."

Women who are already diagnosed with diabetes who hope to get pregnant can take crucial steps to beat the odds, she says. "It's important to take care of yourself, exercise, be at an optimal weight, plan your pregnancy, and make sure the diabetes is well controlled before you get pregnant."

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