A growing number of women are developing diabetes, a chronic disease characterized by high sugar levels in the blood, before and during pregnancy.

In a new Canadian study published in the journal Diabetes Care Thursday, researchers analyzed the health records of over 1.1 million women in Ontario, Canada aged 15-50 who gave birth between 1996 and 2010.

They found that about 45,000 of the subjects were diagnosed with gestational diabetes (GDM) and 13,000 had diabetes prior to pregnancy. The researchers also observed that the rate of GDM and pre-gestational diabetes (pre-GDM) has significantly increased over a period of 14 years as the incidence of diabetes doubled from 1996 to 2010.

"By 2010, almost one in every 10 pregnant women over the age of 30 had diabetes in pregnancy," study lead author Denice Feig, an endocrinologist at Mount Sinai Hospital told the Canadian Press. "That's enormous. And most of our women are getting pregnant over the age of 30."

The growing prevalence of diabetes before and during pregnancy, however, raises concern because the condition increases a woman's risks of giving birth to babies with birth defects. Infants born to mothers who had diabetes are at risk of congenital anomalies that include deformities as well as problems with the lungs and heart and even perinatal death.

Feig and her colleagues observed that the risks of giving birth to infants with serious birth defects are double in women who had diabetes prior to getting pregnant than those who did not have diabetes. Women who developed diabetes during pregnancy, on the other hand, have 26 percent elevated risks than those who did not have diabetes.

Feig said that the growing prevalence of diabetes has something to do with the rising rate of gestational diabetes. "All those things put together are increasing the rates of diabetes in our population and we're seeing it in women who are entering pregnancy because these are the same risk factors for gestational diabetes," Feig said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are over 300 million people worldwide who suffer from diabetes. People with diabetes are at risk of heart disease, strokes, kidney failure and blindness. Obesity raises the risks of diabetes. Individuals who lack of physical exercise and consume unhealthy diets are also at risk of developing the condition.

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