What is Gestational Diabetes and What You Really Need To Know
What is gestational diabetes?
Have you been diagnosed with gestational diabetes (GD or GDM), a form of diabetes that appears only during pregnancy? While it might feel scary at first, know that this pregnancy complication is very common. Up to 9.2 percent of pregnant women have GD, according to a 2014 analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). With careful monitoring and treatment, it can be managed, and you can have a safe and healthy pregnancy.
What causes gestational diabetes?
GD for short, usually starts between week 24 and week 28 of pregnancy when hormones from the placenta block insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas that regulates the body’s metabolism of fats and carbs and helps the body turn sugar into energy, from doing its job and so, preventing the body from regulating the increased blood sugar of pregnancy effectively. This causes high levels of sugar in the blood, known as hyperglycemia. This can damage the nerves, blood vessels, and organs in your body.
Who’s most at risk for gestational diabetes?
While researchers are not yet certain why some women get GD and others don’t, they do know that you may be at an increased risk if:
You are overweight. Having a BMI of 30 or more going into pregnancy is one of the most common risk factors for GD because the extra weight affects insulin’s ability to properly keep blood sugar levels in check.
You have a higher level of abdominal fat. Recent research published in the American Diabetes Association’s journal Diabetes Care found that women who had higher levels of belly fat in the first trimester of pregnancy may be more likely to be diagnosed with gestational diabetes later.
You are older. Doctors have noted that women over the age of 35 have a significantly higher risk of developing GD.
You have a family history. If diabetes runs in the family, you may be more at risk of GD.
Women who are African-American, Hispanic, Asian or Native American are also statistically more likely to receive a GD diagnosis.
You have a personal history of GD. If you had gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy, you’re more likely to have it again in a subsequent pregnancy.
You received a pre-diabetes diagnosis. If your blood sugar levels are slightly elevated before pregnancy, you may be at higher risk of GD.
You have been put on bed rest. Some research has shown that because you’re inactive on bed rest, you’re more likely to gain more pregnancy weight and, therefore, more likely to develop GD.
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What are the symptoms of gestational diabetes?
Most women with have GD don’t have any symptoms, though a few may experience:
- Unusual thirst.
- Frequent urination
- Sugar in the urine (detected at a routine practitioner visit).
How is gestational diabetes diagnosed?
Your doctor asks for a urine sample at every office visit. That’s in part to check for sugar in your urine, which can be a sign of GD.
The U.S. government recommends that all pregnant women be screened specifically for GD. At around week 28 of pregnancy, your practitioner will give you a glucose screening test, where you’ll drink a sugary liquid and have your blood drawn an hour later. If your bloodwork picks up high sugar levels, your doctor will have you take a three-hour glucose tolerance test to determine whether you have it.
With proper treatment and regular monitoring by your practitioner, gestational diabetes can be managed and is not harmful to either you or your baby. But if excessive sugar is allowed to circulate in a mother’s blood and then enter the fetal circulation through the placenta, the potential problems for both mother and baby are serious. Women who have uncontrolled GD are at risk for having a too-large baby, making delivery more difficult and C-section more likely. They are also at risk for preeclampsia and stillbirth. Therefore gestational diabetes is considered a pregnancy complication.
As always, if you are experiencing any unusual symptoms during pregnancy, please consult with your healthcare provider.
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