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Gestational Diabetes: Risks, Symptoms, Complications and Treatment

Updated on January 30, 2012

Pregnancy and Gestational Diabetes

Living with Gestational Diabetes
Living with Gestational Diabetes | Source

Gestational Diabetes

 Gestational Diabetes is also known as gestational diabetes mellitus or GDM.

Unfortunately some women develop complications in their pregnancy. One of those complications being Gestational Diabetes. Gestational diabetes is a condition in which women who have not been diagnosed with diabetes prior to pregnancy, experience high blood glucose levels during their pregnancy. High blood sugar levels occur when the pregnant mother's body is not secreting enough insulin to convert the sugars into fuel the body can use. This then results in elevated blood sugar levels. Gestational Diabetes affects 3-10% of pregnant women and most commonly develops in the third trimester of pregnancy. And unlike other types of Diabetes the mother's blood sugar levels usually return to normal shortly after delivery.

Insulin is produced by beta cells in the pancreas. When a person's blood sugar's rise the pancreas is stimulated to release insulin into the bodies blood system. The higher the blood sugar level the higher the amount of insulin secreted. The blood sugar, or glucose, is then absorbed by the liver and the muscles in the body. From here the glucose is then turned into glycogen. The causes the blood sugar levels in the body to drop. And the glycogen can then be used by the body as fuel.

During pregnancy the placenta produces it's own hormones. These hormones aid in getting nutrients to the unborn baby. Other hormones that are produced by the placenta help the mother from developing low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia. Your body does this because it burns more energy while baking a baby. Therefore, putting it at risk for hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Hypoglycemia can cause the brain to starve and eventually body systems will begin to shut down. The hormones produced by the placenta to help prevent hypoglycemia work by stopping the actions of insulin. Usually if blood sugar levels become too high the pancreas will work harder to produce the needed insulin in order to lower the blood sugar levels. However, in the case of Gestational Diabetes the pancreas is unable to work hard enough to keep up with the need for insulin resulting in high blood sugar (blood glucose levels).

Who is at Risk for Gestational Diabetes

Common risk factors of Gestational Diabetes includes;

  •  A previous diagnosis of Gestational Diabetes.
  • Being overweight or obese.
  • An impaired glucose tolerance (blood glucose levels are already higher than normal).
  • Family history of Diabetes. Especially if they are a close relative such as a mother, father, or sibling.
  • Previous birth of a child with a high birth weight. Usually 9lbs or over.
  • Over the age of 35.
  • Ethnic background (Hispanic, Black, Native American, or Asian).
  • Previous obstetric complications.

These factors will increase your risk of developing Gestational Diabetes. However, this does not mean that you WILL develop Gestational Diabetes. Some women have no risk factors and will still develop Gestational Diabetes.

Symptoms of Gestational Diabetes

Some women do not experience any symptoms.

  • Increased thirst.
  • Increased hunger.
  • Increased urination.
  • Fatigue.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Nausea and vomiting.

Quite often the mother is unaware she has Gestational Diabetes and it is picked up on regular prenatal screening. Most women receive an oral glucose tolerance test between 24 and 28 weeks into their pregnancy.

The Oral Glucose Tolerance Test

The oral glucose tolerance test aka the glucose tolerance test measures your body's ability to clear glucose out of the bloodstream. The mother is asked to fast over night before the day of her prenatal appointment. Glucose levels are then checked to see what level they are at after fasting. After this test is completed the glucose tolerance test it performed. The mother is given approximately 100 grams of glucose to drink (often described as a sweet orange pop like drink). Blood samples are then taken usually up to four times after the glucose is drank to determine how much is leaving the blood stream and at what rate.

Gestational Diabetes Treatment

Treatment or Gestational Diabetes is more of a management of Gestational Diabetes. As the only way to "cure" it is to delivery your baby. And unless you are already term this isn't really a possibility.

Management Includes;

Education of the condition is very important.

  • Monitoring your blood sugar levels.
  • Proper diet. Avoiding foods and beverages high in sugar. And eating a healthy well balanced diet.
  • Maintaining a healthy pregnancy weight.
  • Exercise. This will help your body burn off some of the excess glucose.
  • Regular prenatal appointments.
  • Insulin Injections. Not always needed. However, if your blood sugar still remains high after proper diet and exercise insulin injections may be needed.

Complications of Gestational Diabetes

  • Women with Gestational Diabetes often give birth to large babies. This may cause complications such as injury to the birth canal or c-section.
  • Baby usually has periods of hypoglycemia for a few days after delivery.
  • Increased risk of a stillborn or newborn death.
  • Mother has an increased chance of developing Diabetes later in live.
  • Preterm birth.
  • Respiratory distress syndrome in the infant. (this is increased if the baby is born preterm)
  • Infant Jaundice.
  • Greater chance of the mother developing infections such as urinary tract infections.

All of these complications can be avoided if Gestational Diabetes is carefully monitored and managed.



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