All expectant mothers will be tested for gestational diabetes at some point during their pregnancy. Expecting mothers who are over the age of 35, overweight, or have a family history of diabetes may be tested earlier and more frequently.
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What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a temporary (in most cases) form of diabetes in which the body does not produce adequate amounts of insulin to regulate sugar during pregnancy. It may also be called glucose intolerance or carbohydrate intolerance.
Gestational Diabetes signs and symptoms can include:
- Sugar in urine (revealed in a test done in your doctor’s office)
- Unusual thirst
- Frequent urination
- Frequent vaginal, bladder, and skin infections
- Blurred vision
Who gets gestational diabetes, and why do I have to be tested?
Approximately 2-5% of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes; this number may increase to 7-9% of mothers who are more likely to have risk factors. The screening for this disease usually takes place between your 24th and 28th week of pregnancy.
Doctors test for gestational diabetes during this time because the placenta is producing large amounts of hormones that may cause insulin resistance. If the results indicate elevated levels, further testing would be done to confirm a gestational diabetes diagnosis.
What should I expect during my test?
During your prenatal visit, your doctor will give you a sweet (but not necessarily tasty) liquid to drink one hour before your blood is drawn. It may cause you to feel a bit nauseous. The results will indicate if you are producing enough insulin or not.
What is the treatment?
The primary means of treating gestational diabetes is controlling your blood sugar levels.
There are steps you and your doctor can take in order to ensure you maintain healthy blood sugar levels:
- Close monitoring of you and your baby
- Self-monitoring of blood glucose levels
- Insulin therapy, if necessary
- Diet and exercise management
Is there anything I should be afraid of?
If gestational diabetes is diagnosed and treated effectively, there is little risk of complications. In such cases, women with gestational diabetes can have healthy babies, and diabetes should disappear after delivery.
However, if it is not treated, effects on the mother and baby can include:
- Large birth weight
- Premature delivery
- Increased chance of cesarean delivery
- Slightly increased risk of fetal and neonatal death
It is also important that you watch for signs of diabetes after giving birth.
These symptoms include:
- Frequent urination
- Persistent thirst
- Increased sugar in blood or urine
Testing may be done a few months after the delivery to make sure your blood sugar levels have returned back to normal. Also, keep in mind that women who have gestational diabetes have an increased risk of developing overt (Type II) diabetes later in life. Talk to your doctor if you experience symptoms of Type II diabetes.
Want to Know More?
Compiled using information from the following sources:
1. Williams Obstetrics Twenty-Second Ed. Cunningham, F. Gary, et al, Ch. 52.
MedlinePlus [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US). Gestational Diabetes.