What you need to know about gestational diabetes. This complication of pregnancy is more common than you think. Find out who is at risk for it, how it is detected and what can be treated.
For years physicians believed that gestational diabetes affected 3-5% of all pregnancies, but new, more rigorous diagnostic criteria have put the number close to 18%. This disorder, which can affect any pregnant woman, usually develops in her second trimester, between weeks 24 and 28, and is usually resolved after the baby is born. If it is properly treated and managed during pregnancy, “there is no reason why you should not give birth to a very healthy baby,” says Patricia Devine, MD, perinatology at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. But if the disease is not treated, or is not carefully controlled, it can be harmful to both the mother and her child. Check out our guide to your risk factors, symptoms and treatment options.
What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes or diabetes is diagnosed during pregnancy in a woman who previously did not have the disease. This occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar efficiently. “A hormone produced by the placenta makes a woman essentially resistant to her own insulin,” explains Dr. Devine.
How is this type 1 or 2 diabetes different?
Gestational diabetes affects only pregnant women. People who have type 1 diabetes, sometimes known as juvenile diabetes, are usually born with it. Type 2 diabetes accounts for 95% of cases of this disease in the US; Is triggered in adulthood from factors of the person’s lifestyle, such as obesity or lack of physical activity.
What is the cause of gestational diabetes?
It is unclear why some women develop the disorder and others do not. It is believed to be a genetic predisposition, problems such as obesity before pregnancy, and/or behavioral factors such as diet and exercise habits can contribute to its trigger.
Do you have a risk of contracting it?
Although the disease can affect any pregnant woman, there are several factors that could increase the chances of developing it. Some of them are:
Be over 25 years old
Family history of diabetes
History of giving birth to large babies (more than 4 kilos)
Excess of amniotic fluid (polyhydramnios)
History of miscarriage or unexplained fetal death
History of gestational diabetes
Be African American, Hispanic, American Indian, Alaskan Native, Hawaiian or from a Pacific Island.
If you have already had the disease what are the chances of having it again?
If you have had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy you have a 60% chance of developing it again, according to the American Diabetes Association. On the other hand, half of the women with a history of diabetes develop type 2 diabetes within 10 years of having gestational diabetes, so it is important to maintain good exercise and eating habits after your child is born.
What are your symptoms?
Many women with gestational diabetes do not have any symptoms or if they are very mild. They include fatigue, excessive thirst, blurred vision, frequent urination, weight loss despite increased appetite, nausea, and vomiting.
How is the disease diagnosed?
Approximately at week 20, pregnant women are given a standard glucose test consisting of ingesting a concentrated glucose substance and measuring blood sugar levels one hour later. If elevated levels are detected, a complete glucose tolerance test will be performed, which implies having a night of fasting, drinking another glucose drink and having more blood tests.
What is your treatment?
Your doctor will recommend modifying your diet, as well as limiting carbohydrates, in addition to regular exercise, in order to keep the disease under control quickly and normalize blood sugar levels. However, some women may be asked for daily glucose tests and more intensive treatment, such as insulin injections.
How does the disease affect the developing baby?
You can help minimize your baby’s chances of developing complications through careful management of diabetes. The illness can cause the newborn to overgrow (more than 9 pounds), which can end in a traumatic birth in which your child may suffer some damage. Having a very large baby also dramatically increases the chances of a cesarean section being needed. Other potential problems for the baby include hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), jaundice, electrolyte disturbances, seizures, or breathing problems due to immature lungs (called respiratory distress syndrome). Moreover, a new study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine states that children born to mothers with gestational diabetes are twice as likely to enter the Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder criteria at age 6, compared With those whose mothers did not develop the disease. In addition, they may also be at risk for developing type 2 diabetes when they grow up.