Gestational Diabetes: About the Pregnancy Complication
After 3 pregnancies and 4 babies, I almost feel like an expert on gestational diabetes. Unfortunately, that is because: (1) I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes during my pregnancy with twins in 2002, and (2) I now have Type 1 diabetes as a result.
What if you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes?
You should not be alarmed, regardless of my circumstances. Ending up with Type 1 diabetes is a very rare outcome of gestational diabetes. Nonetheless, women who contract gestational diabetes during pregnancy do have a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life. For this reason, you should learn the early warning signs of diabetes:
1. Excessive thirst
3. Unexplained weight loss
4. Blurry vision and/or dizziness
5. Frequent urination
If you have any combination of these symptoms, you should consult your doctor as soon as possible to discuss the prospect of a glucose tolerance test. Failure to treat high blood sugars resulting from diabetes can have serious results.
What Causes Gestational Diabetes?
Before my diagnosis of gestational diabetes, I thought that the risk factors were simply: a history of large babies, being overweight, not exercising, and a diet consisting primarily of high carbohydrate foods. Nope, this is not 100% accurate.
Gestational diabetes tends to strike women that may otherwise be prone to Type 2 diabetes. Their bodies may already be compromised by the pre-diabetes, where the pancreas (the organ that produces insulin) is having difficulty keeping up with sugar levels in the bloodstream. Pregnancy - particularly a multiple pregnancy - may result in the release of hormones that further interfere with the pancreas's ability to output sufficient insulin.
In cases like mine, however, none of the diabetes risk factors may be present. That is to say, even if the medical community can identify certain things that make you more prone to contract gestational diabetes, you may not be able to avoid it.
Generally, a glucose tolerance test is given to all pregnant women between 26-30 weeks gestation. A sugary liquid is consumed and then a simple blood test, with a blood sugar meter, is conducted to determine whether levels are in range. A normal blood sugar level will be less than 150 mg/100 ml. Your doctor will give you specific instructions regarding the test.
While women that suffer from gestational diabetes tend to have large babies, it does not only strike women that are overweight or those that have a poor diet. I was pregnant with my twins when I was 34 years old. They were my third pregnancy. At 5'4" tall, I weighed 125 pounds when I got pregnant. I gained 55 pounds in the pregnancy overall, before delivering them at 38 weeks gestation.
In my case, gestational diabetes was a precursor to the auto-immune disease, Type 1 diabetes. There is nothing I could have done to slow or stop the the affliction. Auto-immune disorders are simply an over-reaction of the immune system (there are a number of related disorders, from Grave's Disease to Crohn's Disease and more).
Treatment of Gestational Diabetes
Depending on how high your blood sugar levels are, if you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, there are several treatment options.
If your levels are elevated, but not over 180-200 mg/ml, you may be allowed to go on a low-carbohydrate diet and try to increase exercise. You'll be required to keep a food journal, test your blood sugars up to 4 times a day, if possible. Every 15 grams of carbs is considered to be one serving. Each meal may be restricted to 2 servings of carbohydrates, or less.
For those patients who have higher blood sugar levels, and/or those that do not respond to diet and exercise adjustments, insulin may be prescribed. Do not be alarmed. This treatment is necessary for your health and that of your baby. Your own pancreas simply may not be able to keep up. Supplementing with insulin injections (based on specific directions of your doctor) can help you maintain your weight and prevent your baby from gaining too much from excess sugar levels in your system.
Untreated, or not treated properly, gestational diabetes can result in a too large, yet immature baby. After your infant is delivered, their blood sugar levels can crash to dangerously low level after the sugar is literally cut-off from your system. This is why it is so important for you that your own blood sugar levels are maintained at a consistent, healthy level - no matter what it takes.
The Bottom Line on Gestational Diabetes
Do not react too strongly to a diagnosis of gestational diabetes. Do take it seriously, though. The health of you and your baby is dependent on self-care. You may come through the pregnancy and never worry about diabetes again. If nothing else, the diagnosis is a great way to learn about serving sizes and the impact of ingesting carbohydrates.
It is very important that diabetes is managed during gestation, not only for you, but for your baby!
If gestational diabetes does lead to either Type 2 or Type 1 diabtetes in the future, you'll have a great base knowledge of what to do, how to eat, and what to look for with respect to future health issues. Diabetes is challenging, but its not a death sentence. You can have a full and happy life, regardless. With children, you can consider yourself doubly blessed.
I am happy to answer any questions about gestational diabetes, or diabetes in general. Please be sure to leave a comment below, and I will respond.
Wishing you the best of health!
© 2009 Stephanie Hicks