Pregnancy is a state of turmoil and the body is flooded with a variety of hormones. These hormones cause several changes in the body that also include a slight elevation in blood glucose levels. In most pregnant women the extra glucose levels in the blood are normal and subside post-pregnancy. However, in some cases, the levels rise significantly to the point that they pose a risk to both the mother and the child. This situation is called gestational diabetes or pregnancy diabetes. It’s a temporary condition that occurs during pregnancy and is marked by the classic symptoms of diabetes mellitus.
Gestational diabetes significantly increases the risks of several obstetric complications for both mother and child. It could cause fetal distress, intrauterine death, macrosomia, and other neonatal issues. That’s why it’s critical to diagnose it early and treat it promptly.
In this post, we will explore the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for gestational diabetes to help you get a better overview.
How prevalent is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is quite prevalent throughout the globe. These figures will give a deeper insight;
- In the US, 2% to 10% of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes – CDC
- In Europe 5% – 11% of women develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy – ScienceDirect
- In Asian women, the prevalence of gestational diabetes is quite high. Over 10% -20% of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes – Nature
What are the causes of gestational diabetes?
The cause of gestational diabetes is multifaceted and often involves a combination of hormonal changes and lifestyle factors;
- Insulin Resistance – Pregnancy generates a lot of hormones in large quantities. These hormones could impair the function of insulin leading to insulin resistance in women. One of the main culprits is the placental lactogen hormone which significantly hinders insulin function leading to increased blood sugar levels.
- Genetic Predisposition – Women who have a strong family history of diabetes are more likely to develop the condition during pregnancy. Likewise, women who already have a history of developing GD in previous pregnancies are more at risk of developing it again in further pregnancies.
- Obesity – Several research have confirmed a direct link between gestational diabetes mellitus and obesity. Women who are overweight are more likely to develop GDM than those who are at normal body weight.
- Age Factor – Older women, typically 35 and above are at higher risk of developing diabetes.
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) – Women suffering from PCOS are more likely to suffer from GDM.
What are the symptoms?
In most cases, gestational diabetes doesn’t cause any symptoms. Only when the blood sugar level is significantly high will symptoms appear. Even then most symptoms related to gestational are often ruled out as a common pregnancy side effect. However, if you notice any of these symptoms, relay your concern to a doctor and get yourself checked for diabetes;
- Increased Thirst (Polydipsia) – If you suddenly begin to feel unusually thirsty
- Frequent Urination (Polyuria) – Urinating more often than usual, particularly at night is a common sign.
- Excessive Fatigue – Feeling extra tired in pregnancy.
- Blurred Vision – Although uncommon, It sometimes also causes blurry vision.
- High Blood Pressure – Preeclampsia is a serious complication during pregnancy and can be caused by gestational diabetes.
What are the treatment options?
The treatment aims to stabilize blood glucose levels so that they do not jeopardize the health of the mother and child.
- Dietary Adjustments – Dietary adjustments help significantly to manage gestational diabetes. A dietician can plan personalized meals based on your health conditions and calorie requirements. It will involve balanced nutrition, portion control, and food items with low glycemic index.
- Physical Activity – Health care providers also recommend moderate-intensity exercises and other physical activities to help control glucose levels in the blood.
- Regular Glucose Monitoring – To ensure that glucose levels remain within medically specified limits, doctors recommend regular glucose monitoring.
- Insulin Therapy – If lifestyle adjustments alone can’t maintain optimal glucose levels, doctors will also prescribe insulin therapy.
- Oral medications – In addition to insulin therapy, your doctor might prescribe oral medications too. It will depend on your response to your medication and may include Glyburide, Metformin, Glynase, or Fortamet.
Are some women more likely to develop gestational diabetes than others? (Risk Factors)
Although any woman can develop gestational diabetes, some are more prone to it than others;
- Pregnancy in advanced age
- Women with a history of diabetes
- Overweight women
- Women who suffered from diabetes in previous pregnancies.
- Women who have given birth to high-weight babies earlier.
- Women suffering from high blood pressure.
Gestational Diabetes and Risks to the Child
Gestation poses certain health risks to the unborn child. Therefore it needs to be resolved quickly;
- High Birth Weight (Macrosomia) – Untreated GD could lead to high birth weight, which makes delivery difficult.
- Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar) – Newborns could suffer from hypoglycemia because their bodies are accustomed to high glucose levels.
- Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS) – GD could lead to delayed lung maturation. It puts newborns at higher risk of respiratory problems.
- Risk of type 2 diabetes – Children born to mothers with GD have a risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
- Preterm Birth – Women with GD have a higher risk of preterm birth.
Is gestational diabetes temporary or permanent?
Gestational Diabetes isn’t permanent – the condition resolves in most of the cases. However, doctors recommend that women who suffer from hyperglycemia during pregnancy should regularly monitor their blood glucose levels. Almost 50% of the women who develop gestational diabetes will also suffer from type 2 diabetes later in their lives, particularly those who are overweight.
Gestational diabetes is a common condition that manifests after 28 weeks of pregnancy. One in six women develop Diabetes during pregnancy. However, in most cases the condition does not pose any risk; only in small percentage will the condition could significantly affect the blood glucose levels.
In any case, given the risk it poses to both mother and child, if you are pregnant, it’s prudent to have it tested for diabetes. For any doubts or convenes, consult your doctor promptly.
- Buchanan T.A., Xiang A.H., Page K.A. Gestational Diabetes Mellitus: Risks and Management during and after Pregnancy. Nat. Rev. Endocrinol. 2012;8:639–649. doi: 10.1038/nrendo.2012.96. [PMC free article]
- Crowther C.A., Hiller J.E., Moss J.R., McPhee A.J., Jeffries W.S., Robinson J.S., Australian Carbohydrate Intolerance Study in Pregnant Women (ACHOIS) Trial Group Effect of treatment of gestational diabetes mellitus on pregnancy outcomes. N. Engl. J. Med. 2005;352:2477–2486. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa042973. [CrossRef]