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Risk of fetal death is increased in pregnant women with pre-existing diabetes

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Pre-existing maternal diabetes more than quadrupled the risk of fetal death



Women who enter pregnancy with diabetes are 4.5 times more likely to experience fetal death and almost twice as likely to lose their infant in the first year of life, compared with women without diabetes, a new study shows.1

Although previous investigations have explored the link between pre-existing maternal diabetes and fetal and infant death, they have not excluded congenital anomalies as a cause of death. In this newest study, Tennant and colleagues used data from several longstanding population-based registries in the north of England to explore the link in offspring without congenital anomalies.

Details of the study
Tennant and colleagues included all normally formed singleton offspring of women with pre-existing diabetes (1,206 with type 1 diabetes and 342 with type 2 diabetes) in the North of England from 1996 to 2008 in their study. Information on these pregnancies came from the Northern Diabetes in Pregnancy Survey. The relative risks (RR) of fetal death (death of a fetus at or after 20 weeks’ gestation) and infant death (death during the first year of life) were estimated by comparing these data with population data from the Northern Perinatal Morbidity and Mortality Survey.

The RR of fetal death in pregnancies marked by preexisting diabetes was 4.56, and it was 1.86 for infant death, compared with pregnancies without diabetes. These risks did not vary between women with type 1 diabetes and those with type 2 diabetes. Other variables associated with a higher risk of fetal or infant death were glycated hemoglobin levels greater than 6.6%, prepregnancy retinopathy, and a lack of folic acid supplementation.

The prevalence of fetal death was 3% in women with preexisting diabetes, and the prevalence of infant death was 0.7%, compared with 0.7% and 0.4%, respectively, in women without diabetes.

Tennant and colleagues found no evidence that the risk of fetal and infant death associated with preexisting maternal diabetes had decreased over time, or that the relative risk of stillbirth varied by gestational age.

The average glycated hemoglobin level in the study was 7.8%. The target for glycated hemoglobin is 7% according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and 6.1% according to England’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Tennant and colleagues estimate that the prevalence of fetal and infant death would have been about 40% lower if the women in their study had achieved either the ADA or NICE target.

Related Article: Does myoinositol supplementation reduce the rate of gestational diabetes in pregnant women with a family history of type 2 diabetes? E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA (Examining the Evidence, June 2013)

Clinical recommendations
“It’s disappointing to see so little improvement because, with the right care, most women with diabetes can—and will—have a healthy baby,” the authors commented. “Stillbirths and infant deaths are thankfully not common, but they could be even less common if all women with diabetes can be helped to achieve the best possible control of their blood glucose levels.”

“We already know that folic acid reduces the risk of certain congenital anomalies, such as spina bifida or cleft lip, which is why women with diabetes are advised to take high-dose supplements of 5 mg daily. These are available on prescription and should be taken for at least 3 months before conceiving. Our results suggest this simple action may also help to reduce the risk of stillbirth or infant death, even in babies without these conditions.”

Related Article: Does folic acid supplementation have long-term benefit to offspring? Paul L. Ogburn, Jr, MD (Examining the Evidence, January 2012)

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