Will Pregnancy Put Me at Risk?
I am the 33-year-old mom of a healthy 2-year-old boy, and I have type 1 diabetes. I've been told by two doctors that pregnancy decreases the life expectancy of a woman with diabetes. The thought really upsets me. Is this true? Name Withheld
Paris Roach, MD, responds:
What to Know: Women with type 1 or type 2 diabetes can have uneventful pregnancies, healthy babies, and normal healthy lives after their babies are born. Pregnant women with diabetes, however, may have additional health risks compared to those without diabetes.
Preexisting retinopathy (diabetic eye problems) can worsen during pregnancy as can preexisting nephropathy (diabetic kidney disease). The development of advanced kidney disease during pregnancy could potentially decrease the life span of the mother, especially if she has to undergo dialysis for a long period of time. The presence of vascular disease (coronary artery disease and/or cerebrovascular disease, the cause of strokes and ministrokes, or TIAs), which is more common in women with diabetes, confers especially high risk for a pregnant woman because pregnancy places a high demand on the cardiovascular system. Additionally, poor glucose control during pregnancy can lead to maternal complications during pregnancy and/or delivery that could affect the long-term health of the mother.
Find Out More: The best way to limit risks to mother and baby in diabetic pregnancies is to plan, plan, plan. Consult your care team if you are even considering trying to become pregnant in the next year or so. If your blood glucose isn't under excellent control, start now. Undergo appropriate evaluations for diabetic complications and cardiovascular disease. Have your thyroid hormone levels checked, as adequate thyroid hormone is important for both maternal health and fetal development. If your blood pressure is elevated, get on a baby-safe treatment regimen and have a frank discussion with your physician about the pregnancy risks conferred by high blood pressure.
Eat healthfully, engage in moderate exercise, and take the appropriate vitamins. Take time to take care of yourself before you become pregnant so that diabetic complications and other risks can be discussed and dealt with before, instead of during, pregnancy.
Takeaways: If you came through your pregnancy without worsening of diabetes complications or cardiovascular events, there would seem to be no evidence that pregnancy has affected your long-term health.