What is Gestational Diabetes?
As a reproductive endocrinologist, I believe that it is extremely important to keep my patients informed about all potential complications or issues that might arise throughout even a healthy and low-risk pregnancy. One such issue is gestational diabetes, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates is present in 2 to 10% of pregnancies. Most likely to develop around the sixth month of pregnancy, gestational diabetes is a result of blood sugar levels rising during this time. When working with patients with gestational diabetes, I am always sure to stress the importance of proper health management. Poorly managed gestational diabetes can have effects on you and your baby, so it is very important to know the risk factors, symptoms, and treatment options available. Keep reading to learn the five things I want everyone who’s pregnant to know about this condition.
1. There are Risk Factors for Gestational Diabetes
As with most medical conditions, there are some factors that may put you at a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes. If you have a family history of diabetes, are overweight, have high blood pressure, are over the age of 25, gain more weight than normal during your pregnancy, or have PCOS or another condition associated with resistance to insulin – then you are at a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes. People with African, Asian, Hispanic, or Pacific Islander ancestry may also be at a higher risk. If you have had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy or have previously given birth to a baby over 9 pounds, you are also at a greater risk of developing this condition in your current or future pregnancies. Be sure to convey to your doctor all the details of your health throughout your pregnancy– even something that seems insignificant can play a role during this time of your life.
2. Symptoms of Gestational Diabetes are Rare
That’s right – most people with gestational diabetes do not know they have it at all. Some symptoms may present themselves, such as fatigue, a more frequent need to urinate, blurred vision, and excessive thirst. However, all of these symptoms may also be associated with being pregnant in general, making them difficult to distinguish as symptoms of a specific condition. This is why screening is so important!
3. Screening for Gestational Diabetes is Key
Because symptoms are hard to distinguish, I recommend that patients are screened for gestational diabetes between weeks 24 and 28 of pregnancy. In order to screen for gestational diabetes, a one or two-step test will be administered. The one-step test involves fasting and having your blood sugar levels tested. Then, you will drink a carbohydrate drink and your blood will be tested again at one and two hour intervals. The blood sugar levels read at each test help me to determine if gestational diabetes is present.
The two-step test is similar to the one-step test, but without the need to fast. You will drink a solution rich in sugar and then a blood test will be administered. If blood sugar levels are deemed safe, you’re good to go! If they are over the safe threshold, you will come back again for a second test after fasting, drink another sugary solution, and have your blood re-tested.
3. Treatment Options for Gestational Diabetes
If you are found to have gestational diabetes, the good news is that now you know, and you can take the right steps towards a safe pregnancy. Most likely, you will need to monitor your blood sugar levels before and after meals, making sure to also eat healthily and exercise to control these levels. Healthy eating and exercise alone may be enough to control blood sugar levels, but some people may require insulin as well. Keeping a close watch is key to developing the right treatment plan.
4. Pregnancy Complications Among those Affected by Gestational Diabetes
If gestational diabetes is not caught or is not properly managed during your pregnancy, it may affect the health of your child. Unmanaged gestational diabetes can cause a baby to have a higher birth weight, low blood sugar, and/or difficulties breathing. Additionally, the child may be more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life.
5. You Should Also Be Tested for Type 2 Diabetes
While blood sugar levels typically return to normal following birth, patients may be at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes after birth if they had gestational diabetes. This is why it is vital to continue receiving medical care and regular checkups postpartum and beyond to ensure that blood sugar levels return to normal and steps can be taken to reduce the new mom’s risk for type 2 diabetes.
These are just some of the things I want you to know about gestational diabetes, but I am sure you might have some more questions and concerns. I’d be happy to speak with you about gestational diabetes, risk factors, and ways to ensure that you have a healthy and safe pregnancy! It is my job to make sure you feel informed and comfortable at every stage throughout this incredible time in your life. Please reach out to me and we can go over any concerns you may have.