Doctors know that women who develop gestational diabetes are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life. New research now shows that two to 10 percent of women who had gestational diabetes may also be at a higher risk of developing heart disease in later years.

A new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association followed nearly 900 women between the ages of 18 and 30 for 20 years. Over that period of time, women were tested for diabetes and other metabolic conditions. Then an average of 12 years after giving birth, the women underwent an ultrasound to measure the thickness of the walls of their carotid arteries, to test for risk of heart disease.

Researchers found that by the time the women had reached their late 30s to late 40s they had thickened arteries — an early sign of heart disease. They found that 13 percent of the women during the study developed gestational diabetes, and those women's carotid artery walls were 0.023 mm thicker than those who did not develop gestational diabetes while pregnant. This difference was not attributed to other risk factors like obesity.

These finding indicate that a history of gestational diabetes may be an early risk factor for heart disease in women. The National Institutes of Health estimates that seven out of every 100 pregnant women develop gestational diabetes.

What leads to gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is activated during pregnancy when hormones weaken the effect of insulin. Factors that put pregnant women at risk of developing gestational diabetes include:

  • Family history of diabetes

  • Being older than 25 when becoming pregnant

  • Being overweight before becoming pregnant

  • Having a previously unexplained miscarriage

Women typically develop heart disease later in life than men, due to hormones that aid them through menopause. If you have a family history of diabetes and are planning on becoming pregnant, speak with your doctor and create a plan that will help keep you and your baby healthy.

To learn more on this topic:
Gestational Diabetes: Symptoms
Gestational Diabetes: Causes
Gestational Diabetes: Risk Factors