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Gestational Diabetes

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Gestational diabetes definition and facts

  • Gestational diabetes is diabetes that occurs in pregnant women.
  • Risk factors for gestational diabetes include
  • There are typically no noticeable signs or symptoms associated with gestational diabetes.
  • Gestational diabetes can cause the fetus to be larger than normal. Delivery of the baby may be more complicated as a result. The baby is also at risk for developing low blood glucose (hypoglycemia) immediately after birth.
  • Following a nutrition plan is the typical treatment for gestational diabetes.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight and following a healthy eating plan may be able to help prevent or minimize the risks of gestational diabetes.
  • Women with gestational diabetes have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes after the pregnancy

What is gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is diabetes, or high blood sugar levels, that develops during pregnancy. It occurs in about 4% of all pregnancies. It is usually diagnosed in the later stages of pregnancy and often occurs in women who have no prior history of diabetes.

What causes gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is thought to arise because the many changes, hormonal and otherwise, that occur in the body during pregnancy predispose some women to become resistant to insulin. Insulin is a hormone made by specialized cells in the pancreas that allows the body to effectively metabolize glucose for later usage as fuel (energy). When levels of insulin are low, or the body cannot effectively use insulin (i.e., insulin resistance), blood glucose levels rise.

What are the screening guidelines for gestational diabetes?

All pregnant women should be screened for gestational diabetes during their pregnancy. Most pregnant women are tested between the 24th and 28th weeks of pregnancy (see section; “Is there a test to diagnose gestational diabetes?”).

What are risk factors for gestational diabetes?

Some degree of insulin resistance and impaired glucose tolerance is normal in late pregnancy. However, in some women, this is enough to produce diabetes of pregnancy, or gestational diabetes. There are several risk factors that can increase your risk of getting gestational diabetes. Risk factors include:

  • Obesity;
  • A history of gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy;
  • Previous delivery of an infant with a high birth weight (over 9 pounds);
  • A parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes;
  • A personal history polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS);
  • African American, American Indian, Asian American, Hispanic, or Pacific Islander American ethnicity; or
  • Having pre-diabetes

How does gestational diabetes affect the baby?

Women with gestational diabetes who receive proper care typically go on to deliver healthy babies. However, if you have persistently elevated blood glucose levels throughout pregnancy, the fetus will also have elevated blood glucose levels. High blood glucose can cause the fetus to be larger than normal, possibly making delivery more complicated. The baby is also at risk for having low blood glucose (hypoglycemia) immediately after birth. Other serious complications of poorly controlled gestational diabetes in the newborn can include an greater risk of jaundice, an increased risk for respiratory distress syndrome, and a higher chance of dying before or following birth. The baby is also at a greater risk of becoming overweight and developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

If diabetes is present in an early pregnancy, there is an increased risk of birth defects and miscarriage compared to that of mothers without diabetes.

What are the complications of gestational diabetes for the mother?

  • Women with gestational diabetes have a greater chance of needing a Cesarean birth (C-section), in part due to large infant size.
  • Gestational diabetes may increase the risk of preeclampsia, a maternal condition characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine.
  • Women with gestational diabetes are also at increased risk of having type 2 diabetes after the pregnancy.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/5/2016


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