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Gestational Diabetes May Increase Risk of Autism

High blood glucose might interfere with normal brain development, researcher says

TUESDAY, April 14, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Gestational diabetes may increase the risk a child will develop autism, according to research published in the April 14 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Anny Xiang, Ph.D., director of statistical research at Kaiser Permanente Southern California in Pasadena, and colleagues followed 322,323 children born from 1995 through 2009 at Kaiser hospitals in Southern California. During roughly 5.5 years of follow-up, 3,388 children were diagnosed with autism.

The researchers determined that babies exposed to gestational diabetes by the 26th week of pregnancy had a 42 percent increased risk of developing some degree of autism compared with children not exposed to gestational diabetes. The finding held even after taking into account other factors that could affect risk, such as maternal age, education, and weight.

Xiang cannot explain the mechanism behind the link with certainty. However, she told HealthDay that the high blood glucose levels involved in gestational diabetes could interrupt normal brain development at a crucial time period. Under guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, women are screened for gestational diabetes, usually at 24 to 28 weeks. A woman who has risk factors for gestational diabetes -- such as being overweight, older than 25, or having a history of gestational diabetes -- should consider earlier screening, such as at the first prenatal visit, Xiang said. The researchers added that early screening for autism in children born to mothers with gestational diabetes may also be warranted.

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