Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes which some women develop during the course of pregnancy. This condition is known to affect 2 to 10% of expectant mothers which makes gestational diabetes one of the most common health problems to be encountered during pregnancy.
Pregnancy and Gestational Diabetes: The Link
In the simplest form, diabetes can be understood as a medical condition where your body either fails to produce insulin or when your cells fail to respond to the insulin in your body which results in elevated blood sugar level.
Glucose, which is the result of the process of food breakage in the digestive tract, is used by body cells as fuel for obtaining energy once it enters the bloodstream. However, insulin which is produced by the pancreas is needed for this process along with the cells’ ability to respond to the insulin. In the event anything is missing, the glucose will remain in the blood rather than moving into the cells for being converted into energy.
The link between gestational diabetes and pregnancy can be attributed to the hormonal changes in the body during pregnancy which may make the body cells less responsive to insulin in the body. However, for most of the expectant mothers, this is not a problem as an increased demand for insulin in the body is met by increased insulin production by the pancreas. Gestational diabetes is a condition where the increased insulin requirement of the body has surpassed the insulin production.
An encouraging fact about gestational diabetes is that after giving birth, most women do not continue to remain affected by this condition. However, women who have had gestational diabetes are at an increased risk of developing the condition in future pregnancies and also later in life.
There are usually no symptoms which accompany gestational diabetes which is usually the reason why many women go for screening tests at a later stage in their pregnancy. Your caregiver may recommend the screening test for gestational diabetes on your first visit in case you are at high risk for the disease or there are signs, such as sugar in urine. In case the initial test result is negative, the test may be scheduled at 24 to 28 weeks. However, a positive result does not necessarily mean you have developed gestational diabetes. It simply means you will be required to go through follow-up test for finding out the actual picture.
Certain risk factors of gestational diabetes are
- The presence of sugar in urine
- Having developed gestational diabetes in previous pregnancies
- Strong family history of diabetes
- Obesity, with a BMI over 30
Additional factors which may also put you at high risk include
- Previous unexplained stillbirth
- High blood pressure
- Having had a baby with birth defect.
- Being over 35
- Having previously given birth to a big baby
Excessive Weight Gain and Gestational Diabetes
Studies have also concluded a link between gestational diabetes and excessive weight gain particularly in the first trimester. Similarly, the risk is also high in women who are overweight. However, it is equally important to mention that many women who go onto develop gestational diabetes do not have any risk factors. This is the reason many health practitioners get their patients screened whether or not there are faced with risk factors. Yet, there are women who are considered at low risk and may not be required to go through the test. They include
- Women whose weight is within a healthy range
- Women who are below the age of 25
- Women who don’t have a family history of diabetes
- Women who have never had a blood sugar test report which indicated a high level
- Women with no history of pregnancy complications
Gestational diabetes, therefore, is one of the most common pregnancy related health problems. If you are at a higher risk of the disease, your health practitioner may consider screening you at an early stage. Regardless of whether you encounter any risk factors or not, you should get yourself tested for the condition.