Gestational diabetes is a diabetic condition which only occurs in women during pregnancy. While a woman is pregnant, the amount of glucose present the blood can rise. This can sometimes cause the body to struggle to produce an increased amount of insulin to counteract the extra glucose. When this struggle occurs, it is called gestational diabetes. This condition is thought to affect 14% of all pregnancies.
What is gestational diabetes?
Diabetes is caused by the presence of excess glucose in the blood. The hormone known as insulin, which is produced in the pancreas, has the job of controlling the amount of glucose. Food that we consume enters our bodies through our stomach. From here the food gets broken down and the nutrients from it are absorbed into the bloodstream. This is then transported to cells via the bloodstream where they are converted into energy.
During pregnancy, hormones suppress the effect of insulin, which would ordinarily limit the amount of glucose in the blood, to allow extra glucose and nutrients be passed to the unborn baby. This is important for the baby in order to help them grow and develop in the womb. However, in some cases, the level of production of insulin is insufficient in dealing with the extra glucose. Therefore, too much glucose remains in the blood and leads to gestational diabetes. The good news is that gestational diabetes is not a lifelong condition and will disappear after the baby is born.
What are the symptoms of gestational diabetes?
Common symptoms of diabetes include a constant and unquenchable thirst, the frequent passing of urine and tiredness. However, it is important to note that in some cases, gestational diabetes does not cause any symptoms. Generally symptoms begin to occur in pregnancy during the second and third trimesters.
How is gestational diabetes diagnosed?
Soon after you discover you are pregnant, you will be invited to attend a booking in appointment with a midwife. During this meeting, you will be asked questions relating to your health in order to identify any risk factors which may affect your pregnancy and unborn child. It is also likely that you will be asked about a family history of medical conditions or complications including whether or not anyone in your family suffers with diabetes. Your answers will help determine whether you may be at risk from developing gestational diabetes. If anything suggests that you may be at risk, you will then be advised to undergo testing.
A simple blood test during pregnancy can generally spot the onset of gestational diabetes by measuring the amount of glucose present in the blood. Alternatively, you may be asked to take a glucose tolerance test (GTT). A GTT involves taking blood samples before and after drinking a glucose drink. The tests will analyse how well your body deals with the surge of glucose.
Of course if you notice any of the symptoms listed above during any point of your pregnancy then you should discuss it with your doctor or midwife.
Am I at risk of developing gestational diabetes?
Women who are thought to be more at risk of developing gestational diabetes are those whose body mass index (BMI) was over 30 prior to pregnancy. Previous history can also play a part especially if you have already given birth to a large baby or suffered with gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy. You may also be more likely to develop gestational diabetes if there is a family history of diabetes. Also, gestational diabetes during pregnancy has been found to be more prevalent in certain ethnic groups. Statistics also show that women who develop gestational diabetes are more likely to suffer from type 2 diabetes in the future.
What is the treatment for gestational diabetes?
Diet and exercise can often be enough to control the condition but some mothers-to-be need medication to manage the diabetes. After an initial diagnosis, you may be referred to a dietician to receive information on the best foods to eat and also the types of foods you need to avoid. Exercise has also been shown as a good way to lower glucose levels and health practitioners can advise on the best way to exercise safely during pregnancy. If, after a couple of weeks, this regime has not controlled the gestational diabetes sufficiently, then medication will be necessary for the remainder of the pregnancy. You will also be advised on how to monitor and control the condition which may involve testing your own blood regularly, interpreting glucose levels and administering insulin. Without this intervention, gestational diabetes can cause complications such as large babies who are at risk of getting stuck in the birth canal during labour.
Gestational diabetes on the whole can be diagnosed and well managed during pregnancy. It is important to reveal any risk factors or draw attention to any symptoms you may be experiencing in order to receive prompt care and attention. Also worth remembering, is the fact that gestational diabetes will disappear soon after the baby is born and is not a lifelong condition.