Gestational Diabetes: As If Being Pregnant Wasn’t Stressful Enough?
Pregnancy can be many different things. It can be planned, or unplanned. It can be a time of great excitement and expectation. On the other hand, many women find the whole process to be daunting, and stressful. This is all normal, and can be seen as just part of the colorful world of the new parent. However, what if, on top of all this, you develop gestational diabetes? You find yourself with a condition you didn’t know you had, the consequences of which can be serious.
Gestational diabetes mellitus, to give its full name, or GDM, occurs in pregnant women with no past history of diabetes, who have high levels of glucose in their blood. Although there is no definite cause, hormones produced during pregnancy reduce the effectiveness of insulin in the body in controlling blood sugar levels. Ordinarily, the pregnant woman’s body produces extra insulin to deal with this. However, should it fail to do so, this can lead to gestational diabetes.
The symptoms of gestational diabetes are difficult to detect, as they are common features of most pregnancies. Excessive thirst, needing to urinate frequently, and tiredness are all common symptoms among pregnant women.
At the same time, the problems caused by gestational diabetes are similar to those faced by other diabetic mothers, and can be serious. There is an increased risk of premature birth. The baby tends to be large for its gestational age, and during the birth, this can lead to shoulder dystocia. This is a situation where the baby’s head is delivered but the shoulder gets stuck, and is an emergency situation. The baby also has an increased risk of jaundice, low blood sugar levels, and possible future problems with obesity and diabetes. There is also a risk of pre-eclampsia (a condition that can affect the health of the baby), and caesarean delivery. Usually, the mother is fine once the baby is born.
The good news is that it is treatable. Introducing changes to the diet, maintaining blood glucose levels, and using insulin therapy (if necessary); will reduce the risks to mother and baby.
Risk factors for gestational diabetes include its occurrence in a previous pregnancy, and any family history of type 2 diabetes. Older women, certain ethnic groups, and obese women, are all more likely to develop it. However, around half of all women who develop the condition have none of these risk factors at all.
Diagnosis is a staged process. A glucose challenge test may be used at around 24 weeks into the pregnancy to check for possible gestational diabetes. Following no food being eaten overnight, a glucose drink is given, and samples taken at intervals to test the body’s reaction to it. This can highlight the need for further testing, namely a glucose tolerance test, which is more involved and gives a more definitive result.
Between 2% and 5% of all mothers develop gestational diabetes, making it one of the most common health complaints during pregnancy. Screening for it would seem to be an obvious idea. With symptoms which are similar to any other pregnancy, it is a difficult condition to diagnose, and yet it can have life threatening consequences.