10:30am Tuesday 26 May 2020

Extra pregnancy risk for women with diabetes

Researchers from Newcastle University found that the risk of stillbirth or death during the first year of life was over four times greater in women with diabetes than in those without; with no evidence that this had improved. The risks were similar for women with type 1 and type 2 diabetes and were reduced in women with well controlled blood glucose levels.

The study also found that women with diabetes who had taken folic acid supplements before pregnancy had half the risk of a stillbirth or death during the first year of life.  However, only 40% of women took these supplements.

Diabetes deaths could be avoided

In the paper, to be published today in the journal Diabetologia, the team from Newcastle studied the outcomes of over 400,000 pregnancies delivered in the North of England between 1996 and 2008. They found that 2.7% of births in women with diabetes resulted in stillbirth, six times than rate for women without diabetes, while 0.7% died during the first year of life, nearly double the rate in women without diabetes.  The research found that nearly 40% of deaths might have been avoided if all of the women were able to achieve good control of their blood glucose before pregnancy.

Dr Ruth Bell, who specialises in maternal and perinatal health at Newcastle University and who led the research, said: “It’s disappointing to see so little improvement because, with the right care, most women with diabetes can – and will – have a healthy baby. 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 before becoming pregnant.

“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 milligrams 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.”

Planning a pregnancy

Professor Rudy Bilous, professor of clinical medicine at Newcastle University and Consultant at South Tees NHS Foundation Trust, offers some advice: “Firstly, if you are planning a pregnancy, and your blood glucose levels are high, then any reduction -even a small one – is likely to be good for your baby. Secondly, seek advice as early as possible from your diabetes team. They can help you keep your glucose at safe levels, as neither high blood glucose nor repeated episodes of severe hypoglycaemia are good for you and your baby.”

This is one of the largest studies of its type ever conducted. It was made possible by NHS clinical teams throughout the region working together to collect information about pregnancies in women with diabetes and improve the services provided.



Key Facts:

  • Newcastle University is a Russell Group University
  • We rank in the top 20 of UK universities in The Sunday Times 2013 University Guide
  • Amongst our peers Newcastle is:
    • 5th in the UK for graduates into jobs (HESA 2011-12)
    • 10th in the UK for student satisfaction
    • Ranked 8th in the UK for Medical research power
    • In the UK’s top 12 for research power in Science and Engineering
  • 95% of our students are in a job or further training within six months of graduating
  • We have a world-class reputation for research excellence and are spearheading three major societal challenges that have a significant impact on global society. These themes are: Ageing and Health, Sustainability, and Social Renewal
  • Newcastle University is the first UK university to establish a fully owned international branch campus for medicine at its NUMed Campus in Malaysia which opened in 2011
  • Our International students put Newcastle University in world’s top 12 (ISB 2011)

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