Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that can develop during pregnancy. Some women are able to manage it by eating a healthy, balanced diet, staying active and maintaining a healthy weight. Others may need to take medication.
Most people know that diabetes is a chronic condition that messes with your blood sugar, but it may surprise you to learn that pregnant women are susceptible to a temporary, but serious, form of the disease called gestational diabetes.
At Atlantic Endocrinology & Diabetes Center our team of board-certified physicians understands the potential complications of gestational diabetes and has vast experience helping mothers to control their symptoms and deliver healthy babies.
If you’re expecting, it’s important to be fully informed about all of the potential problems that can arise during pregnancy so you can spot the symptoms and seek help immediately. Here, we take a closer look at gestational diabetes to give you a better overall understanding of this serious condition.
What causes gestational diabetes?
Lots of changes happen to your body during pregnancy.
Along with the physical signs, the hormones you produce can make it hard for your body to use insulin properly. This puts you at an increased risk of insulin resistance, and some women can’t produce enough insulin to overcome it.
This makes it difficult to use glucose (sugar) properly for energy, so it stays in your blood and the sugar levels rise. This then leads to gestational diabetes.
Who’s at risk of gestational diabetes?
At your first antenatal appointment – also known as your booking appointment – a healthcare professional should check if you’re at risk of gestational diabetes.
They should offer you a test for gestational diabetes if you have any of these risk factors:
- Overweight or obese
- Have had it before
- Have had a very large baby in a previous pregnancy – 4.5kg/10lb or more
- Have a family history of diabetes – parent or sibling
- Have a South Asian, Black or African Caribbean or Middle Eastern background.
Can you prevent gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is common. It affects at least 4–5 in 100 women during pregnancy. Some women have a higher risk of developing it.
You can’t prevent it but there are some things you can do to reduce your risk. This includes managing your weight, eating healthily and keeping active before pregnancy.
Gestational diabetes symptoms
Signs and symptoms associated with gestational diabetes include:
- Going to the toilet a lot, especially at night.
- Being really thirsty.
- Feeling more tired than usual.
- Losing weight without trying to.
- Genital itching or thrush.
- Blurred eyesight.
You may have been shocked to find out that you have gestational diabetes – many women have no noticeable symptoms.
As some gestational diabetes symptoms are like symptoms experienced in pregnancy anyway – like feeling more tired or going to the toilet more – most cases are diagnosed during screening for gestational diabetes. This is called an Oral Glucose Tolerance Test, also known as an OGTT.
The OGTT is done when you’re between 24-28 weeks pregnant. If you’ve had gestational diabetes before, you’ll be offered the OGTT or self monitoring of your blood sugar levels at home early in your pregnancy. You’ll be shown how to do this and given a blood monitoring kit.
Uncontrolled gestational diabetes is dangerous for you and your baby
With regular monitoring and a healthy diet and exercise routine, most women can keep their gestational diabetes under control. However, if you ignore this condition, you put yourself at risk of:
- Preeclampsia, which is high blood pressure during pregnancy
- Needing to deliver your baby via C-section
- Developing Type 2 diabetes later in life
In fact, about 50% of women who get gestational diabetes end up dealing with Type 2 diabetes down the road.
Your baby also faces potential complications if you have gestational diabetes, including:
- Premature birth
- High birth weight
- Low blood sugar
- Breathing problems
- Higher chances of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life
In severe cases, gestational diabetes can lead to a stillbirth.
Gestational diabetes is manageable
You can do your best to prevent gestational diabetes by staying active during your pregnancy, eating a nutritious diet, and maintaining a healthy weight. However, you can still develop gestational diabetes despite these efforts. If you do, we may prescribe insulin therapy.
The good news is that gestational diabetes typically disappears after you deliver your baby, but we still need to test you for a while afterward to make sure. Plus, you’ll need to pay close attention to your diet and weight in the years following your pregnancy to avoid developing Type 2 diabetes.
To find out more about gestational diabetes, or to get tested, call us or book online at your convenience. Our team can help you and your unborn baby thrive despite gestational diabetes.