Sept. 17, 2003 -- Women with diabetes may be up to five times more likely to give birth to children with congenital heart defects, even though the risk of such a birth defect is still relatively small, a new study suggests.
Structural abnormalities of the heart are the most common type of birth defect and affect about six to eight out of every 1,000 babies born. In most cases, the cause of the congenital heart defect is unknown.
Researchers say diabetes is known to have a negative effect on the heart and increase the risk of heart disease, but this is the first study to compare the risk of congenital heart defects among babies born to women with pre-existing diabetes vs. other women.
Diabetes May Affect Unborn Babies' Hearts
In the study, researchers looked at all 192,618 live births to mothers in a northern region of England between 1995 and 2000.
Among those births, 609 births were to women with diabetes. Congenital heart defects were found in 22 of these babies, which is equivalent to a rate of 3.6% of all births to women with diabetes.
In contrast, similar birth defects were found in 1,417 babies born to mothers without diabetes, which equals a rate of less than 1% of all births to this population.
Based on those figures, researchers say women with diabetes are about five times more likely to give birth to a child with a congenital heart defect compared with healthy women.
Researcher C. Wren of the department of pediatric cardiology at Freeman Hospital in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, and colleagues say the findings suggest all women with diabetes be offered special heart monitoring of their unborn child. Prompt treatment of these birth defects greatly increases the chances of better health and survival for the baby.