Gestational Diabetes Shows Possible Link to Autism

A common concern of expectant parents is what can increase the likelihood of their children being diagnosed with autism. A recent study found a link between exposure to gestational diabetes and autism risk.

A common concern of expectant parents is what can increase the likelihood of their children being diagnosed with autism. A recent study found a link between exposure to gestational diabetes and autism risk.

According to study results published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers looked at data from more than 320,000 children who were exposed to gestational diabetes by their 26th week of gestation.

“Exposure of fetuses to maternal hyperglycemia may have long-lasting effects on organ development and function,” noted a press release that accompanied publication of the study results. “Previous studies have revealed long-term risks of obesity and related metabolic disorders in offspring of women who had diabetes prior to pregnancy as well as women with hyperglycemia first detected during pregnancy (gestational diabetes mellitus [GDM]). Whether such exposure can disrupt fetal brain development and heighten risk of neurobehavioral developmental disorders in offspring is less clear.”

All the children studied as part of the research were born at Kaiser Permanente Southern California (KPSC) in Pasadena, California, from 1995 through 2009. They were then followed through either a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the last date of KPSC health plan membership, any form of death, or through December 31, 2012, whichever came first.

Out of the total patient pool, 6,496 children (2%) were exposed to pre-existing type 2 diabetes. Additionally, 25,035 children (7.8%) were exposed to gestational diabetes, while 290,792 (90.2%) had no exposure at all. Within an average period of 5.5 years after birth 3,388 of the children were diagnosed with an ASD, including 115 who were exposed to pre-existing type 2 diabetes, 130 who were exposed to gestational diabetes at or before 26 weeks, and 180 who had been exposed after 26 weeks. The remainder were in the no-exposure category.

After looking at several factors including the mother’s age, household income, race and gender of the child, the statement notes, “GDM diagnosed by 26 weeks was significantly associated with risk of ASD in offspring, but maternal pre-existing type 2 diabetes was not.” The study authors also reported that other factors like maternal smoking and body mass index as well as gestational weight gain did not increase the risk of an ASD diagnosis.