Study finds pregnant women with obesity or diabetes experience foetal heart changes

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American researchers find that pregnant women with diabetes or obesity experience changes in foetal hearts, which could have implications for pregnancy outcomes.

Dr. Aparna Kulkarni, paediatric cardiologist from the Bronx, New York, revealed her findings at EuroEcho-Imaging 2015, the annual meeting of the European Association of Cardiovascular Imaging, a registered branch of the European Society of Cardiology.

Kulkarni’s team prospectively enrolled 82 pregnant women with diabetes and 26 pregnant obese women with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of over 30 kg/m2. It was not specified which diabetes type the pregnant women had.

Between 2012 and 2015, the researchers examined echocardiograms to detect how well the heart muscles of each foetus were contracting and relaxing.

Then, they used a method called speckle tracking to generate more detailed information on heart muscle function. According to Kulkarni, this method can detect heart abnormalities before standard echocardiographic techniques.

Subclinical changes were found in the heart muscles (myocardium) of foetuses of mothers with diabetes, and those with obesity, compared to a control group of 70 healthy pregnant women.

“With speckle tracking we had evidence that the myocardial function was unfavourably altered in the hearts of foetuses of mothers with diabetes and obesity,” said Kulkarni.

There were 387 million people with diabetes in the world in 2014, which is expected to rise to around 600 million by 2035. Meanwhile, there were more than 600 million adults worldwide in 2014 that were obese.

Kulkarni added: “Diabetes and obesity are major epidemics of the present century. I see a lot of mothers with one or both conditions in my clinical practice and wanted to investigate if these maternal conditions had any effect on the foetal hearts.”

While Kulkarni warned that expectant mothers with obesity or diabetes risk causing damage to their baby’s hearts, Kulkarni added that further studies are required to assess if foetal changes affects the child’s cardiovascular health as a child or an adult.

“These are important results but I don’t want pregnant women with diabetes or obesity to think that something will definitely go wrong with their pregnancy. We need more answers about what impact diabetes and obesity in the mother may have,” Kulkarni concluded.