A study of young adults and teenagers in Canada, whose mothers had diabetes during their pregnancies found the offspring had a 50 per cent to 200 per cent higher risk of developing heart disease before age 35 than those who were not exposed in the womb.
"These observations support our hypothesis that cardiovascular disease morbidity in adolescence and early adulthood is related to exposure to maternal diabetes in utero," said Jonathan McGavock from the University of Manitoba in Canada.
For the study, published in the journal CMAJ, the research team looked at data on more than 290,000 children born to almost 190,000 mothers in Manitoba between 1979 and 2005.
Of the total children, 2.8 per cent were exposed to gestational diabetes and 1.1 per cent to pre-existing type 2 diabetes.
Exposure to both types of diabetes became more common during the study period, a trend seen elsewhere in the world.
The three most frequent diagnoses among offspring exposed to diabetes were high blood pressure (8,713 people), type 2 diabetes (3,568 people) and ischemic heart disease (715).
"We found that children born to mothers with diabetes in pregnancy were 30 per cent-80 per cent more likely to develop a heart condition and 2.0 to 3.4 times more likely to develop a heart disease risk factor than children born to mothers without diabetes in pregnancy," McGavock said.
Furthermore, heart conditions and risk factors were diagnosed 2 years earlier in the children exposed to diabetes in the womb.
The authors suggest these findings may be useful for preventive health practices.
"Screening children with in utero exposure to diabetes for cardiovascular disease risk factors might help to evaluate the future burden related to cardiovascular disease in the population," the authors concluded.