By Charles Brice
A study led by the University of Adelaide has found that pregnant women who suffer from metabolic syndrome have an increased risk of having complications during pregnancy.
- Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of cardiovascular risk factors
- A study has found 12.3 per cent of women with the syndrome had pregnancy complications
- Researcher says pre-eclampsia and diabetes are high on the list of health issues
Gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia were among the complications identified and it was found that the health issues were two to four times more likely to occur if metabolic syndrome was diagnosed in women.
The study, which was supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), defined metabolic syndrome as a cluster of cardiovascular risk factors.
The research assessed 5,530 women at 15-weeks gestation at Adelaide’s Lyell McEwin Hospital and across five other centres in the UK, New Zealand and Ireland.
The study found that 12.3 per cent (684 women) had metabolic syndrome during the early stages of pregnancy.
“More than half of the women who had metabolic syndrome in early pregnancy developed a pregnancy complication while about one third of those who did not have metabolic syndrome later developed a pregnancy complication,” lead author Dr Jessica Grieger said.
According to the Dietitians Association of Australia, metabolic syndrome is the name given for a group of risk factors related to heart disease and type 2 diabetes which includes obesity, high blood pressure and insulin resistance.
Dr Grieger said that pre-eclampsia could have serious long-term ramifications for a mother and her child.
“Having pre-eclampsia during pregnancy, which is high blood pressure plus other organ dysfunction, like problems with the liver, can increase the mum’s risk for liver and kidney problems, having seizures, but also high blood pressure after pregnancy, and earlier chance of cardiovascular disease,” she said.
“For the baby, they may be born early, have a low birth weight, they may have problems such as cerebral palsy in childhood, and they also may be at a higher chance for developing cardiovascular disease as adults.”
Risk of health issues in the future
Similarly, Dr Grieger said gestational diabetes could also pose issues in the future.
“With gestational diabetes, the mum and baby are both at [a] higher chance for developing type 2 diabetes in the future,” she said.
“The baby may be born larger, sometimes earlier, and may be at risk of obesity throughout their life.
The study found that gestational diabetes can also increase the risk of high blood pressure. (Flickr: Robert Eiserloh)
“Having gestational diabetes also raises the pregnant woman’s risk of high blood pressure, as well as pre-eclampsia.”
Although metabolic syndrome isn’t routinely identified during pregnancy, a number of lifestyle factors such as a healthy diet, exercise and not smoking can help reduce possible symptoms.
Senior author of the report, Professor Claire Roberts suggested that the study might explain abnormalities in pregnancy risks.
“This research may help to explain why some lean women who don’t appear to be at risk may develop pregnancy complications, while some obese women who we would traditionally consider to be at risk because of their weight, do not,” she said.
Dr Grieger also said it was what was on the inside that counted and metabolic syndrome in early pregnancy could increase the chance of developing pregnancy complications, regardless of the body weight of the mother.
“We should continue to encourage all women, whether they are of normal or high body weight, to aim for a healthy pregnancy by having a good quality diet and continuing to exercise,” she said.
“Education should start early because we know that health issues track throughout life.”
She said while “further research in other pregnant populations” was required to the support the work, it would help to identify women who might be impacted, and they could take part in interventions including diet, exercise and medication, to lower their risk.
The research was published in the journal PLOS Medicine.