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Obesity in Pregnancy Changes Structure of Placenta

Obesity in pregnancy has been long identified as a risk factor for complications. A new study suggests that pregnant women with obesity may undergo changes in the placenta's structure.

Researchers in South Africa and the University of Cambridge examined the effects of maternal obesity and gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM), a type of diabetes that can develop during pregnancy but usually goes away after giving birth. Between 2% to 10% of pregnancies in the United States are affected by gestational diabetes yearly.

Both obesity and GDM are associated with multiple maternal and fetal complications, including increased risk of fetal death and stillbirth.

The study, published in the Journal of Physiology, included 71 pregnant women of Black or mixed ancestry. Of those, 52 had obesity, and 38 had developed GDM. The researchers used their clinical profiling, conducted a deep structural examination and molecular analysis of the placenta, and looked at biochemical measurements of maternal and infant cord blood.

The research found that compared to gestational diabetes, maternal obesity had a more significant impact in reducing the formation of the placenta, its blood vessel density and surface area, and its capacity to exchange nutrients between the mother and the developing child.

In addition, both obesity and GDM affect placental hormone production and inflammation markers, suggesting that the placenta is functioning abnormally.

Placenta is an organ that develops during pregnancy and attaches to the wall of the uterus. It helps to keep a developing baby alive and healthy by providing oxygen and nutrients and removing waste products from the baby's blood.

The researchers note that the study's limitation is a small sample of participants, making it impossible to determine what impact the sex of the fetus has on these placental changes.

Obesity is dangerous for everyone

Obesity poses serious health risks in the general population and is associated with heart disease, diabetes, and increased mortality. During pregnancy, obesity may lead to serious complications for both a mother and a baby.

For example, pregnant women with obesity may develop gestational hypertension, or high blood pressure, which can result in a stroke or preterm delivery.

A severe form of gestational hypertension is preeclampsia, typically occurring in the second half of pregnancy or soon after childbirth. The condition can cause kidney and liver failure as well as problems with the placenta and the fetus's growth.

Women with obesity can also develop obstructive sleep apnea, a condition where a person stops breathing for short periods during sleep. This condition can cause fatigue and increase the risk of high blood pressure, preeclampsia, and heart and lung problems.

A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that women with gestational diabetes and obesity during pregnancy are more likely to have children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.


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