London, Apr 9 : Researchers at the University of Cambridge have revealed that babies whose mothers have preeclampsia during pregnancy are at an increased risk of developing cardiovascular problems later in life.
Pre-eclampsia is a medical condition in which hypertension arises in pregnancy along with other problems that can lower the amount of oxygen the foetus receives.
The lack of oxygen may impede growth and damage the baby's cardiovascular, metabolic and endocrine systems.
The researchers conducted the study on pregnant animals and examined the pregnancies at high altitude, where oxygen is restricted.
The findings showed changes in the way the foetus grew when oxygen was restricted, and significant variations in the way key systems in the body developed.
According to the research team, this can put the baby at the risk of developing heart disease later in life.
"We have known for a while that changes in maternal nutrition can affect foetal development and influence disease susceptibility later in life, but relatively little work has investigated how low oxygen levels in the womb may affect infant development," BBC quoted Dr Dino Giussani, lead researcher, as saying.
"Our research shows that changes to the amount of oxygen available in the womb can have a profound influence on the development of the foetus in both the short - and long - term, and trigger an early origin of heart disease," he added.
The researchers suggest that damage caused by lack of oxygen could be compensated by increasing mother's diet with nutrients such as Vitamins C and E, selenium and lycopen.
"This may halt the development of heart disease at its very origin, bringing preventative medicine back into the womb," said Giussani.
The study is to be presented at a Society for Endocrinology meeting.