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Gestational diabetes: What you need to know

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What is gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is a type diabetes found in women during their first pregnancies. The condition affects three to eight in every 100 pregnant women.

What are the gestational diabetes symptoms?

There are often no noticeable gestational diabetes symptoms.

What causes gestational diabetes?

Changing hormones and weight gain, which are considered normal during pregnancy, cause the condition.  Somehow, some women could not keep up with their need for insulin leading to increased serum levels of insulin, the hormone responsible for metabolism of blood sugar or glucose.

What risk does gestational diabetes pose?

Gestational diabetes can affect both the fetus and the pregnant woman.  Women with the health condition may increase risk of high blood pressure during pregnancy and increase risk of a large baby and the need for cesarean section at delivery.

If left untreated, the condition can cause a series of problems in the baby including being born very large and with extra fat making the delivery difficult and dangerous for the baby, low blood glucose after birth, and breath problems.  It can also raise risk for type 2 diabetes in the mother and the baby for the rest of their lives.

How do I know if I am at high risk for gestational diabetes?

Those who have the following risk factors are considered at high risk of gestational diabetes.

A family history of diabetes;

African American, American Indian, Asian American, Hispanic/Latino or Pacific Islander;

At the age of 25 years or older;

Being overweight;

having pre-diabetes;

If you are very overweight, have had gestational diabetes before or have a strong family history of diabetes or have glucose in your urine, you are at high risk for gestational diabetes in the current pregnancy.

If you have only one risk factor, you are at an average risk.

If you don't have any risk factor, you are at low risk.

How is gestational diabetes diagnosed?

Three tests are commonly used.

1) Fasting blood glucose or random blood glucose test.  This method can confirm gestational diabetes in some but not all women.

2) Screening glucose challenge test.  For this test, you will be asked to take a sugary drink and have your blood sugar checked an hour later.  The test can be done at any time of the day.  If you are found abnormal, you will need further tests.

3) Oral glucose tolerance test.  You should eat normally for three days and then fast for at least 8 hours, then you drink a sugary beverage and have your blood sugar checked 1 hour, 2 hours, and 2 hours later.  Your doc will see if you have any problem.

When are the tests given?

If you are at high risk, your glucose level may be checked at your first visit. If you are found normal, then you will be checked again between weeks 24 and 28 of your pregnancy.

If you are at an average risk, you will be spared from any test during the first visit, but will be checked between weeks 24 to 28.

If you are at low risk, you don't need to take any test.

How is gestational diabetes treated?

Usually, a meal plan and physical activity are prescribed to help you control your blood sugar. if that fails, then you may be given insulin.

For a meal plan, your doctor may advise you limit intake of sweets, eat small meals often and one to three snacks every day. 

(Editor's note: lots of snacks contain high levels of sugar though)

For physical activity, you may be advised to intensify your walking and swimming which would help lower your blood sugar.

By Jimmy Downs

The article is based largely on a government document.



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