What is Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes (also called gestational diabetes mellitus or GDM) is a condition in which your body is not processing the sugar (called glucose) in your blood properly. When we eat certain foods containing sugar and starch, our bodies break that food down into glucose (blood sugar) to use for energy. Your pancreas has the function of producing insulin to help regulate the amount of sugar that is present in your blood. However, when you have gestational diabetes, your body does not produce enough insulin to handle the sugar in your blood. This can lead to some serious health problems including heart disease, kidney disease, and even blindness. There is no need to panic; a diagnosis of gestational diabetes does not mean that you had diabetes when you conceived, or that you’ll have diabetes after you give birth. Pregnancy puts unique demands on our bodies and sometimes causes conditions to arise that require a little extra attention while we are carrying a child.
What are the symptoms?
For most pregnant women, gestational diabetes does not cause any noticeable symptoms, which is why your doctor will test you for it at approximately 24 to 28 weeks. If you develop this condition during your pregnancy, you may need checkups more frequently during the last three months, when your doctor will regularly monitor your blood sugar level as well as your baby’s health. Your obstetrics doctor may refer you to other health professionals who specialize in the treatment of diabetes to help you learn techniques to manage your blood sugar level while you are pregnant.
What are the causes?
No one is certain of the exact cause of gestational diabetes. During pregnancy, the placenta produces high levels of hormones, almost all of which impair the action of insulin, which causes an elevation in blood sugar. As your term progresses, an increasing amount of hormones are produced, and these placental hormones can cause a spike in blood sugar.
How is the test performed?
Your obstetrics provider will test you for gestational diabetes by administering a glucose tolerance test at 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy. If your provider thinks you’re at risk, you may be asked to take the test sooner. The test is administered in the doctor’s office. A fasting lab draw of blood is taken first to test your fasting glucose level. Then you will be asked to drink eight ounces of a glucose solution and your blood will be retested to see how your body processes the sugar.
Can it be avoided?
The healthier your eating habits are, the better life will be for both you and your baby. Since no one understands the true cause, there is no cure for the condition, but making healthy choices both before and during your pregnancy may reduce your risk of having gestational diabetes in future pregnancies. Risk factors include:
- Being over the age of 25
- Obesity and/or a lack of physical exercise
- Previous occurrence of gestational diabetes
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Other hormone imbalances
- Being prediabetic
- Immediate family member with diabetes (parent or sibling)
If you are overweight, losing excess weight before becoming pregnant may help you avoid developing gestational diabetes during pregnancy.
How will it affect my pregnancy and/or my baby?
If you follow your heath care provider’s recommendations, you should be able to have a healthy and safe pregnancy and delivery. However, this condition does carry with it some health risks, including:
- Cesarean birth
- Perinatal depression (aka postpartum depression)
- High blood pressure and preeclampsia
- Premature birth
- Birth injuries
- Breathing problems
- Low blood sugar
- Diabetes later in life
In most cases, gestational diabetes disappears after giving birth. However, the presence of this condition during pregnancy does make it more likely that you will develop diabetes later in life. To help reduce this risk, breastfeed your baby to help lose excess pregnancy weight, get tested for diabetes 4 to 12 weeks after your baby is born, achieve and maintain a healthy weight, and get tested again every few years.At Colorado Obstetrics and Women’s Health, our staff offers women complete, personalized, comprehensive care for all phases of life, from puberty through the childbearing years, into menopause and beyond. Give us a call today at (719) 634-8800 to schedule an appointment for a pregnancy test or wellness exam. We look forward to helping you achieve your best health.