Author(s): Mills JL
Maternal insulin-dependent diabetes has long been associated with congenital malformations. As other causes of mortality and morbidity have been eliminated or reduced, malformations have become increasingly prominent. Although there is not universal agreement, the great majority of investigators find a two- to threefold increase in malformations in infants of insulin-dependent diabetic mothers. This increase is not seen in infants of gestational diabetics. It probably is not present in women whose diabetes can be controlled by diet or oral hypoglycemic agents. The risk does not appear to be primarily genetic since diabetic fathers do not have an increased number of malformed offspring. Most studies show a generalized increase in malformations involving multiple organ systems. Multiple malformations seem to be more common in diabetic than non-diabetic infants. Caudal regression has the strongest association with diabetes, occurring roughly 200 times more frequently in infants of diabetic mothers than in other infants. The teratogenic mechanism in diabetes is not known. Hyperglycemia may be important but human studies focusing on the period of organogenesis are lacking. Hypoglycemia has also been suggested based mainly on animal experiments. Insulin appears unlikely. Numerous other factors including vascular disease, hypoxia, ketone and amino acid abnormalities, glycosylation of proteins, or hormone imbalances could be teratogenic. None has been studied in sufficient detail to make a judgment. A large-scale prospective study is required to determine early fetal loss rates, correlate metabolic status during organogenesis with outcome, and assess the effect of diabetic control on malformation rates.