Babies born to mothers with diabetes have an increased risk of having problems with their sight in later life, a study suggests.
Researchers have called for all youngsters born to mothers who have diabetes to have tests to ensure that they do not suffer from complications.
The study, published in the journal Diabetologia, examined the links between maternal diabetes and the risk of high refractive error (RE) – a condition in which there is a failure of the eye to properly focus images on the retina.
An international team of researchers examined data on 553 Danish children born to mothers with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes before they fell pregnant, or among those who developed diabetes during pregnancy – also known as gestational diabetes.
This was compared with information on almost 20,000 children born to mothers who did not have diabetes around the time of pregnancy.
The youngsters were tracked until they were 25 years old, or when they were diagnosed with RE.
The team, led by Dr Jiangbo Du, from Nanjing Medical University in China, found that overall diabetes was associated with a 39% increased risk of high RE.
And the risks were more pronounced among children born to mothers who had suffered from complications linked to their diabetes such as diabetic coma, ketoacidosis – when a person’s body starts to run out of insulin – and other problems linked to kidneys, sight, the brain or circulatory system.
The risk was found to be lower among children born to mothers with type 1 diabetes
Writing in the journal, the authors said: “Our findings suggest that maternal diabetes during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of high RE in offspring, in particular among those of mothers with diabetic complications.
“Early ophthalmological screening should be recommended in offspring of mothers with diabetes diagnosed before or during pregnancy.”
Commenting on the study, Dr Lucy Chambers, head of research communications at Diabetes UK, said: “This important study provides new evidence that there is a small increased risk of visual impairments, such as myopia or astigmatism, in children of women who had diabetes during their pregnancy – whether pre-existing or diagnosed during. The risk was found to be higher if the women had diabetes-related complications.
“Keeping blood sugar levels in target range is important for avoiding pregnancy complications and having a healthy baby. This new research expands our understanding of the risks associated with diabetes in pregnancy and underscores the importance of women being well-supported to manage their diabetes before and throughout their pregnancy.
“Before pregnancy, women with pre-existing diabetes should be offered advice about keeping blood sugars at safe levels, taking folic acid, stopping certain medications and getting eyes and kidneys checked.
“During pregnancy, all women with diabetes, including gestational diabetes, should receive regular reviews with their diabetes team and be provided with access to available diabetes technology.”