Diabetes: High blood sugar during pregnancy linked to future health risks for baby

Diabetes: High blood sugar during pregnancy linked to future health risks for baby


Type 2 diabetes can be a 'devastating diagnosis' says expert

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A new research study – published in the peer-reviewed journal Diabetologia – suggests that high blood sugar experienced by the mother can lead to long-lasting effects once the baby is born. Dr Jiangbo Du, based at Nanjing Medical University, and the research team detailed the health risks. “Children born to mothers with either pre-gestational or gestational diabetes were at an increased risk of developing high refractive error (RE).”

RE conditions describe “a failure of the eye to properly focus images on the retina”.

RE is a common form of visual impairment, including both long and short-sightedness, as well as astigmatism.

The NHS elaborated on what astigmatism is: “[It] means your eye is shaped more like a rugby ball than a football, so light is focused at more than one place in the eye.”

This can cause:

  • Blurred vision
  • Headaches
  • Eye strain.

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Astigmatism in one eye may cause a lazy eye, where the vision doesn’t develop properly.

“Collectively these conditions are the second most common form of disability globally,” the research paper said.

Low-degree REs can be corrected optically using glasses or contact lenses.

However, more serious REs can develop into “severe and irreversible visual impairment that can reduce an individual’s quality of life”.

One of the main acquired risk factors for developing REs include the growing prevalence of using “close-up devices”.

Examples include computers and mobile phones; as well as a lack of outdoor activity.

“Earlier research has shown that individuals with severe RE may have congenital eye defects before birth,” the authors stated.

This suggests that “the conditions to which the foetus is exposed in the uterus may play a role in the development of more serious RE in later life”.

The scientists said that high blood sugar during pregnancy may lead to elevated foetal blood sugar levels.

As a consequence, this can damage the retina and optic nerve of the growing baby.

This can lead to changes in the shape of the eyes that ultimately cause RE.

Gestational diabetes

The NHS explained: “It happens when your body cannot produce enough insulin – a hormone that helps control blood sugar levels – to meet your extra needs in pregnancy.”

Most cases of gestational diabetes don’t cause any symptoms, but expectant mothers will be screened for the condition.

If blood sugar levels become “too high” then symptoms might emerge, such as:

  • Increased thirst
  • Needing to pee more often than usual
  • A dry mouth
  • Tiredness.

Gestational diabetes can lead to pregnancy complications and premature birth.

Treatment will involve managing blood sugar levels with your diet, exercising and sometimes insulin.

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