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Gestational diabetes could raise risk for autism

Posted:  Monday, April 20, 2015

Mothers-to-be need to be wary of gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) especially at 26 weeks as a new study identified it to be one of the risk factors for the development of autism. Incredulously, gestational diabetes in later pregnancy did not seem to show this association.

Published in the Journal of American Medical Association, the observational study evaluated data on more than 322,000 children between 1995 and 2009. Among them, nearly 2% of infants were born to mothers diagnosed with diabetes before pregnancy whereas almost 8% were exposed to GDM; 90% were not exposed to any maternal diabetes.

Evaluating the history of anti-diabetic medication use, the researchers found that more than half of the mothers with pre-existing diabetes and a quarter of those with GDM consumed medications. In all, nearly 3400 children were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) through childhood.

The key findings of the study were as follows:

- Kids born to mothers who had reported early GDM were 42% more likely to be diagnosed with ASD later in life

- This association persisted even after adjusting for family history of ASD, maternal smoking, pre-pregnancy height and weight and gestational weight gain

- Pre-existing type 2 diabetes was also associated with ASD development; however other maternal factors like maternal age and health conditions explained the increased risk

A pregnant mother with pre-existing diabetes could be under a physician’s care and monitoring. However, those diagnosed with GDM early in pregnancy could have had high blood glucose levels during critical periods of brain development.

The researchers expressed caution about the observational nature of the study, hinting at the need for further studies monitoring blood sugar levels during early and late pregnancy and infant brain development to firmly establish this link.

“No matter whether we found this or not, the overall advice to pregnant women is go see doctor, check your blood sugar, make sure it’s normal,” said lead author Ann H. Xiang. “Studies have also shown that a mother who had gestational diabetes is more likely to have increased risk for obesity and diabetes in the future,” concluded the researchers.

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