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Study: Babies born to mothers with diabetes at higher risk for psychiatric disorders

Diabetes during pregnancy increases the risk for psychiatric disorders in children, a new study has found. Photo by Myriams-Fotos/Pixabay
Diabetes during pregnancy increases the risk for psychiatric disorders in children, a new study has found. Photo by Myriams-Fotos/Pixabay

Oct. 14 (UPI) -- Children born to mothers with diabetes during pregnancy are at higher risk for mental health disorders as they grow into adulthood, a study published Thursday by JAMA Network Open found.

Mothers who have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, or who develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy, are 15% more likely to have children diagnosed with a psychiatric condition later in life than those born to mothers who did not have diabetes at delivery, the data showed.

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This includes a 55% higher risk for schizophrenia, a disorder that causes hallucinations, delusions, paranoia and disorganized thinking.

Diabetes during pregnancy also raises the offspring's risk for anxiety disorders by just over 20% and for intellectual and developmental disabilities by up to nearly 30%.

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In addition, children of mothers diagnosed with diabetes during pregnancy have a 17% higher risk for behavioral disorders such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, the researchers said.

"Women who intend to become pregnant or have diabetes and are pregnant should be aware of the importance of healthy glycemic levels for their own health and their children's mental health," study co-author Raquel Nogueira Avelar e Silva told UPI in an email.

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"Overall, our findings signal the importance of effective public health strategies for preventing, screening and treating diabetes among women of fertile age," said Avelar e Silva, a post-doctoral researcher at Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark.

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Although it is still not known why children born to mothers who develop diabetes during pregnancy are at higher risk for these mental health issues, "diabetic women should be closely monitored and treated during their pregnancy," she said.

In the United States, up to 2% of pregnant women have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes before becoming pregnant, and up to 9% develop gestational diabetes, or elevated blood-sugar levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, these figures have increased by 40% to 50% since 2000, based on agency and other research estimates.

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Diabetes during pregnancy can negatively affect the health of women and their babies, the CDC says.

For example, for women with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, high blood sugar around the time of conception increases the newborn's risk for birth defects, stillbirth and preterm birth, according to the CDC.

In addition, with any type of diabetes, high blood sugar during pregnancy increases a woman's risk for having a Caesarean section and raises the newborn's risk for developing obesity or Type 2 diabetes as they age, the agency says.

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For this study, Avelar e Silva and her colleagues analyzed data on 2.4 million babies born in Denmark between 1978 and 2016, and tracked them through age 39.

Of the babies included in the study, just over 56,000 were born to mothers with diabetes, including about 23,000 with Type 1 diabetes, 7,000 with Type 2 diabetes and 26,000 with gestational diabetes.

During the follow-up time, 151,000, or just over 6%, of the babies born to mothers with some form of diabetes was diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, the data showed.

"My team and I believe the best way women can minimize their risk, and that of their children, is to adopt behaviors to prevent diabetes in the first place," Avelar e Silva said.

"For women who already have diabetes, the best way to minimize risks would be to monitor their glycemic levels closely and treat them," she said.

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