A Pregnant Partner With Gestational Diabetes Increases The Risk Of Dads Developing Type 2 Diabetes

Sympathy pains
An expectant mom with gestational diabetes could be a risk factor for type 2 diabetes in both mothers and fathers later on in life. Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock

Sorry, expectant dads. Those sympathy pangs of yours may last long after the pregnancy is over, according to a recent study published in Diabetes Care.

The study found that the partners of pregnant women who come down with gestational diabetes mellitus (GSM) are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later on in life. It's a significant enough difference that the authors believe that the condition should be seen as a risk factor for type 2 diabetes for both mothers and fathers.

Delving into the hospital records of pregnant women from Quebec, Canada, the authors calculated the prevalence of their partners eventually developing diabetes under one of two circumstances; when the woman was diagnosed with gestational diabetes; and when she wasn't — in total looking at over 70,000 fathers of a single child from 1990 to 2007.

Among these two groups, similarly matched by the region and date of their child's birth, they found a clear correlation in the fathers' own hospital records. 5.2 percent of the fathers in the GSM group were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes by the end of their study period (March 2012), compared to 3.9 percent of the non-GSM fathers.

"We observed that the incidence of diabetes was 33% greater in men whose partner has gestational diabetes compared with men whose partners did not have gestational diabetes," said lead author Dr. Kaberi Dasgupta, an endocrinologist at the McGill University Health Centre, in a statement . "This is the first study to demonstrate a link between gestational diabetes in mothers and diabetes incidence in fathers."

While the exact cause of gestational diabetes — characterized by a high blood sugar level and which often begins around the 24th week of pregnancy — isn't firmly established, it's believed the hormones produced by the placenta trigger a resistance to insulin in the mother. And though the effect is temporary and only occurs in about 10 percent of pregnant women, it's known that a history of GSM can increase a mother's risk of later developing type 2 diabetes.

What this finding then points to is the possibility that the incidence of GSM is partly tied to environmental factors, which in turn influences diabetes risk.  

"Our analysis suggests that couples share risk partly because of their shared social and cultural environment, which may contribute to health behaviours and attitudes," Dasgupta said. "The study reinforces the findings of our previous study on shared risk for diabetes in spouses, and prior studies indicating that less healthy eating habits and low physical activity could be shared within a household."

Much like how cohabitating couples end up wearing the same holiday sweaters, they oftentimes end up with the same diet and exercise regimen. More than 90 percent of the fathers observed in this current study lived with their partners.

The authors are hopeful that their study can encourage health care professionals who regularly interact with pregnant women to better watch out for these risk factors, for both of the parents’ sake.

“Our data suggest that gestational diabetes could be leveraged as a tool to enhance diabetes detection and prevention in fathers,” said Dasgupta.

Source:Dasgupta K, Ross N, Meltzer S, et al. Gestational Diabetes Mellitus in Mothers as a Diabetes Predictor in Fathers: A Retrospective Cohort Analysis. Diabetes Care. 2015

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