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Congenital heart defects are the conditions of the heart that are present at birth and can affect the structure and function of the baby's heart. February 7 to 14 is celebrated as Congenital Heart Disease Awareness Week to bring the awareness among general public regarding these heart defects.

According to Dr Ravinder Goud Jangampally, Consultant Paediatrician & Neonatologist, Yashoda Hospitals Hyderabad, there are many known causes of congenital heart defects, one among them is maternal diabetes.

Maternal diabetes increases the children's risk for congenital heart defects:
Maternal diabetes, whether it's pre-existing type 1 or type 2 diabetes or gestational diabetes, significantly increases the risk of congenital heart defects (CHDs) in children.

Research indicates that maternal diabetes disrupts normal embryonic development, particularly during the crucial early weeks when the heart is forming. The exact mechanisms underlying this association are still being studied, but several factors are believed to contribute to the increased risk of Congenital heart defects:

Hyperglycemia: Elevated blood sugar levels in the mother can cross the placenta and expose the developing fetus to high glucose concentrations. This excess glucose can disrupt normal cardiac development, leading to structural



abnormalities in the heart.

Oxidative stress: Maternal diabetes is often associated with increased oxidative stress, which can damage developing fetal tissues, including the heart.

Epigenetic changes: Diabetes during pregnancy can cause alterations in gene expression patterns in the developing fetus, potentially affecting the formation of vital organs such as the heart.

Nutrient imbalance: Imbalances in essential nutrients such as folate, which is crucial for embryonic development, can occur in women with diabetes, further increasing the risk of CHDs. 

The types of CHDs associated with maternal diabetes vary but may include septal defects (holes in the heart's walls), transposition of the great arteries, and other structural abnormalities. These defects can range in severity from mild to life-threatening and may require surgical intervention or long-term medical management. Importantly, the risk of CHDs in offspring is not solely determined by the presence of maternal diabetes but also by factors such as glycemic control, maternal age, maternal education and the presence of other comorbidities. Thus, proper prenatal care, including early screening and management of diabetes before and during pregnancy, is essential for reducing the risk of CHD and ensuring the best possible outcomes for both mother and child.
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