Mothers' Diabetes Linked To Autism Risk In Children

pregnant woman holding bump

A new study has found a link between diabetes and autism. In a study published in JAMA and conducted by the Southern California Permanente Medical Group, research shows there is an increased risk of autism in children when the pregnant mother has pre-existing diabetes or develops gestational diabetes during pregnancy.

"The risk appears to be highest in type 1, then type 2 and gestational diabetes," said lead researcher Anny Xiang“People have been studying [the relationship between maternal diabetes and autism] for many years,” Xiang stated. “This is the first study to examine type 1 diabetes.”

For the study Xiang and her research team looked at data collected from over 419,000 children born in Kaiser Permanente Southern California hospitals between the years 1995 to 2012.

Of the children studied, "621 were born to mothers with type 1 diabetes, 9,453 had mothers with type 2 diabetes, and 36,427 were exposed to gestational diabetes," Psychology Today reports. Xiang confirmed that the mothers who had Type 1 (the most rare form of the disease) or Type 2 diabetes took medication during their pregnancy, whereas the women who developed gestational diabetes were only medicated when necessary.

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pregnant woman
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The results found that in the children born to mothers with Type 1 Diabetes, there was an autism rate of 4.4 per 1000, for mothers with Type 2 Diabetes it was 3.6 per 1000, for gestational diabetes it was 2.9 per 1000, and for mothers with no form of diabetes at all it was 1.8 per 1000.

Thomas Frazier, chief science officer at Autism Speaks who wasn't involved in the study, told WebMD that although the study does show a correlation, "the increases in risk aren't huge."

"I wouldn't say that women should worry. It should motivate them to talk with their doctor and make sure their diabetes is controlled, because that's the part they can control."

Xiang stated that she didn't know if controlling diabetes would affect autism rates but said that "screening for autism risk for children born to mothers with type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes diagnosed early during pregnancy may be warranted for early intervention," WebMD reports.

Most experts agree that if there is a diabetes diagnosis before or during pregnancy it's important for women to be treated appropriately to avoid any health risks to the baby.

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