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How Pre-Eclampsia and Gestational Diabetes are Linked to Heart Disease

By Erin Quinn

Updated November 14, 2008

(LifeWire) - Here are three good reasons to learn about gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia if you are a woman:

1. The illnesses can be dangerous.

2. They are triggered by pregnancy, so two lives may be at risk.

3. Gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia are both risk factors for heart disease -- the number one cause of death among American women.

Pre-eclampsia Is . . .

Pre-eclampsia is a sudden upward spike in blood pressure and/or an excess of protein in the urine, which signals that small blood vessels in the kidneys are damaged. It's also known as pregnancy-induced hypertension, or high blood pressure.

Warning signs that you may have pre-eclampsia include sudden weight gain, swelling in the face and limbs, nausea, intense headaches and changes in vision. Some women who develop pre-eclampsia, though, have no symptoms at all.

The condition, estimated to occur in 5 to 8% of all pregnancies, reduces the amount of blood being supplied by the Mother to the child, resulting in less oxygen and nutrients for the baby. The only way to cure pre-eclampsia is to deliver the infant, although mothers-to-be with pre-eclampsia are often put on bedrest to prevent going in to premature labor, especially if delivery would result in a very premature delivery.

Gestational Diabetes Is . . .

Gestational diabetes is when an expectant Mother who didn't have diabetes before becoming pregnant develops high blood sugar, because her body suddenly can't process glucose properly. According to the American Diabetes Association, 135,000 women in the United States develop the condition each year.

If this form of diabetes isn't treated by regulating blood sugar levels (through diet, exercise and/or insulin injections), the newborn may have hypoglycemia, breathing problems or develop jaundice. It's also likely that the baby will grow to be very large, making delivery hard on both Mother and child.

Perhaps the most important effect is a sort of one-two punch that the condition often delivers; that is, women who have gestational diabetes are 15% more likely than others to develop pre-eclampsia.

What's the Connection to Heart Disease?

A study published in the December 2007 British Medical Journal finds that women who have had pre-eclampsia are nearly four times as likely to develop hypertension later in life and nearly twice as likely to have heart disease or stroke as those who have not had the condition.

The researchers say they are not yet able to pinpoint the specific reason for the increased risk, but  the suspicion is that it may be related to the damage to blood vessels that pre-eclampsia is known to cause.

Pre-eclampsia should be considered an important factor when a woman is being evaluated for her risk of cardiovascular disease.

If you have had pre-eclampsia or gestational diabetes, you can read more about hypertension here, and diabetes here.


"About Preeclampsia." preeclampsia.org. 19 Jul. 2008. Preeclampsia Foundation. 31 Oct. 2008. <http://www.preeclampsia.org/about.asp>.

Bellamy, Leanne, Juan-Pablo Casas, Aroon D. Hingorani, and David J. Williams. "Pre-Eclampsia and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer in Later Life: Systemic Review and Meta-Analysis." British Medical Journal 335(2007): 974. 31 Oct. 2008. <http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/335/7627/974?maxtoshow=&HITS=10&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&fulltext=preeclampsia&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=10&resourcetype=HWCIT>.

"Gestational Diabetes." diabetes.org. June 2008. American Diabetes Association. 31 Oct. 2008. <http://www.diabetes.org/gestational-diabetes.jsp>.

LifeWire, a part of The New York Times Company, provides original and syndicated online lifestyle content. Erin Quinn is a writer living in Austin, TX. Her work has appeared in Allure, Natural Solutions and US Weekly.

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