Diabetes May Continue to Haunt Black Women After Pregnancy

Researchers say that many Black women with gestational diabetes are likely to develop the condition again later in life.

Posted: 10/20/2011 12:26 PM EDT
Filed Under pregnancy, diabetes

Diabetes May Continue to Haunt Black Women After Pregnancy

Although gestational diabetes is generally described as a problem that fades away after birth, a new study finds that African-American women who develop the condition face an increased risk of re-developing the disease later in life.

Overall, African-American women are less likely to develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy, but those who develop the condition face a 52 percent increased risk of developing diabetes in the future as compared to white women, says a study published online in the journal Diabetologia.

"Race and ethnicity should be considered among the risk factors for type 2 diabetes when physicians and nurses counsel women about their risk of developing diabetes after a pregnancy complicated by GDM," said study lead author Anny H. Xiang, a senior research scientist at the Kaiser Permanente Department of Research & Evaluation in Pasadena, California.

This study used data from 77,666 ethnically diverse women who gave birth from 1995 to 2009. Among African-American women, the risk of developing diabetes was almost 10 times greater if they had gestational diabetes during a past pregnancy than if they did not develop the condition. Comparatively, non-Hispanic White women were only 6.5 times more likely to develop the condition later in life.

Researchers say they cannot yet determine the reason for the higher diabetes rates in African-American women after gestational diabetes but combinations of genetic, environmental, lifestyle or other factors may contribute to the increased risk.

Gestational diabetes mellitus typically occurs during the second or third trimester of pregnancy and is characterized as a glucose intolerance. The condition affects just 7 percent of women and can lead to complications such as early delivery and cesarean delivery and increases the baby's risk of developing diabetes, obesity and metabolic disease later in life.

"All women diagnosed with GDM should be screened for diabetes soon after their delivery and subsequently at regular intervals. These women would benefit from lifestyle changes such as changes in diet and increases in physical activity that can reduce diabetes risk," Xiang said. "Our study shows that prevention messages, while important to all women who develop GDM, are particularly important for African-American women."

(Photo: KAREN PULFER FOCHT/The Commercial Appeal /Landov)

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