Gestational Diabetes During Pregnancy: All you need to know

Justina Valentine

Reading Time: 7 minutes
Gestational diabetes during pregnancy

The type of diabetes known as gestational diabetes only develops during pregnancy and, if left untreated, can cause several complications. It is a common condition and rarely shows any symptoms.

Gestational diabetes is one of the most frequent complications at this stage of life. This condition affects 1 in 10 pregnant women, according to data from the Spanish Society of Internal Medicine (SEMI).

It is assumed that a woman’s metabolism will be more active during pregnancy. It makes more insulin to keep glucose levels under control. However, blood glucose levels increase beyond the normal range when the additional amount of insulin produced is insufficient.

In this article, we will learn the causes, symptoms, and risks associated with gestational diabetes. As well as the steps that women can take to manage the condition and reduce the risk of complications. Let’s get started.

What is gestational diabetes?

When a woman is pregnant, she may develop gestational diabetes, which is a type of high blood sugar (diabetes). It happens when the body is unable to produce enough insulin to control the elevated levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood.

This leads to increased blood sugar levels, which may be harmful to the mother and the growing fetus. Usually, gestational diabetes appears in the second or third trimester and disappears after delivery.

However, some women with gestational diabetes have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. Early diagnosis and treatment are important to manage the condition and minimize the risk of complications.

What are the cause of gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is caused by changes in the way the body processes insulin during pregnancy. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. During pregnancy, the placenta produces hormones that can interfere with insulin’s ability to do its job.

As a result, blood sugar levels can become elevated, leading to gestational diabetes. The exact cause of this condition is not well understood. But some factors have been identified that may increase the risk of developing gestational diabetes, including:

  • Gestational diabetes in previous pregnancy: Women who have previously had gestational diabetes are more likely to develop it again.
  • Diabetes in the family: Women who have a history of diabetes in the family, particularly type 2 diabetes, are more likely to get gestational diabetes.
  • Age: Women over the age of 25 are more likely to develop gestational diabetes.
  • Race and ethnicity: Women who are African Americans, Hispanics, or Native Americans are more likely to experience pregnancy-related gestational diabetes.

It is important to keep in mind that not all women with gestational diabetes risk factors will develop the condition. Many women without any risk factors still have a high chance of developing gestational diabetes.

Symptoms of gestational diabetes

Symptoms of gestational diabetes during pregnancy

Gestational diabetes often causes few noticeable symptoms, which can make it difficult to diagnose. In many cases, women with gestational diabetes have normal blood sugar levels until late in the pregnancy, when the increased demands on the body can cause blood sugar levels to rise.

The following are some of the symptoms that may indicate gestational diabetes:

  • Excessive thirst: Due to high blood sugar levels, women with gestational diabetes may experience excessive thirst.
  • Frequent urination: Due to the elevated blood glucose levels in women with gestational diabetes, they may need to urinate more frequently.
  • Increased appetite: Due to their bodies’ inability to properly use glucose, pregnant women with gestational diabetes may experience excessive hunger.
  • Fatigue: As the body tries to handle high blood sugar levels, pregnant women with gestational diabetes may experience fatigue.
  • Blurred Vision: Temporary vision changes can be brought on by high blood sugar levels.

It’s crucial to remember that these symptoms are not always indicative of gestational diabetes and can also be brought on by other conditions.

It is important to attend all of your prenatal appointments to ensure that any health issues, including gestational diabetes, are detected and treated early.

Complications of gestational diabetes?

If gestational diabetes is not treated, both the mother and the unborn child may experience numerous complications. Such as:

  • Large birth weight
  • Pre-eclampsia
  • Shoulder dystocia
  • Macrosomia
  • Premature birth and a higher chance of a C-section.
  • Increased risk of Type 2 diabetes
  • Large birth weight: Babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes are more likely to be larger than normal. This can cause complications during delivery.
  • Pre-eclampsia is a dangerous condition that can develop during pregnancy. It is characterized by elevated blood pressure and organ damage, including liver and kidney damage.
  • Shoulder dystocia: this is a condition where the baby’s shoulder becomes stuck during delivery, increasing the risk of injury to both the baby and the mother.
  • Macrosomia: this is a term used to describe a baby that is larger than average, and can increase the risk of delivery complications and birth injuries.
  • Increased risk of Cesarean delivery: Due to the increased risk of delivery complications, mothers with gestational diabetes are more likely to require a C-section.
  • Increased risk of Type 2 diabetes: mothers who develop gestational diabetes are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes later in life.

To reduce the risk of these and other potential complications, women with gestational diabetes must carefully manage their blood sugar levels during pregnancy.

Diagnosis of gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes is usually detected between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy, during prenatal care.

There are two common glucose tolerance tests for identifying gestational diabetes:

  • The oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT): This involves ingesting a sweet solution, and blood sugar levels are checked before and two hours after consumption. You could have gestational diabetes if your blood sugar levels are elevated compared to normal.
  • One-step screening test: For this test, you must fast before having your blood sugar levels checked. You might need to undergo the OGTT to confirm the diagnosis if your blood sugar levels are higher than usual.

Gestational diabetes may be diagnose if test results are high. It is worth noting that not all pregnant women with gestational diabetes will test with high blood sugar. Additional tests may be requested by your doctor to keep track of your health and that of your unborn child.

How to check blood sugar levels?

Treatment for gestational diabetes is intended to maintain a blood sugar level equivalent to that of pregnant women without gestational diabetes.

How to check blood sugar levels

To check glucose levels, the pregnant woman is usually given a glucometer. This is a device that allows her to perform a blood glucose test herself by pricking her fingertip. In general, this analysis begins 3 or 4 times a day for a few weeks. 

If the glucometer present values ​​within normality, it will be possible to lower the frequency or stop it completely from increasing. But you must always follow your doctor’s instructions.

Treatment for gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes treatment typically involves a combination of lifestyle changes and medical intervention. The goal of treatment is to regulate blood sugar levels and minimize the risk of complications for both the mother and the baby.

Lifestyle changes include:

  • Dietary changes: Women with gestational diabetes are usually advised to follow a balanced and healthy diet that is low in sugar and carbohydrates. They may also need to eat smaller, more frequent meals to help regulate their blood sugar levels.
  • Physical activity: Regular physical activity can help lower blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity. A recent study of nearly 3,000 women concluded that those who engaged in regular moderate exercise were 30% less likely to develop gestational diabetes. Examples of exercises recommended during pregnancy are Pilates or prenatal yoga, walking, or gymnastics in the water.

Medical interventions include:

  • Insulin therapy: If lifestyle changes are not enough to regulate blood sugar levels, women with gestational diabetes may need to take insulin injections.
  • Blood sugar monitoring: Women with gestational diabetes are usually advised to monitor their blood sugar levels regularly to ensure that they are within the recommended range.
  • Prenatal care: Women with gestational diabetes should receive regular prenatal care to monitor the growth and development of their babies and minimize the risk of complications.
  • Labor and delivery management: Women with gestational diabetes may need to have a planned delivery, such as a C-section, to reduce the risk of complications. The healthcare team will closely monitor the mother and baby during labor and delivery to ensure a safe outcome.

It is important to work closely with a healthcare provider to develop an individualized treatment plan for gestational diabetes.

How to manage gestational diabetes?

You have a higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes later in life if you had gestational diabetes. You can, however, take the following actions to lessen your risk:

  • Maintain a healthy weight: By eating right and exercising regularly, one can lower their risk of developing type 2 diabetes and improve their insulin sensitivity.
  • Eat a healthy diet: Eat a balanced diet low in sugar, saturated fat, and empty calories to help control blood sugar levels and lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Exercise frequently: Physical activity regularly can enhance insulin sensitivity and regulate blood sugar levels. Do some moderate physical activity for 30 minutes a day. 
  • Monitor blood sugar levels: Monitoring blood sugar levels regularly can aid in spotting early indications of type 2 diabetes and enable prompt intervention.
  • Quit smoking: Smoking raises your risk of type 2 diabetes and a host of other health issues. This risk can be decreased by quitting smoking.
  • Manage stress: Type 2 diabetes can be accelerated by prolonged stress. But, it can be lowered by managing stress through relaxation techniques, exercise, or counseling.
  • Regularly seek out medical examinations: Monitoring blood sugar levels and spotting early indications of type 2 diabetes can be done with the aid of routine doctor’s visits.

These actions can help women who have had gestational diabetes lower their risk of getting type 2 diabetes and enhance their general health and well-being.

Final thought

Many pregnant women experience gestational diabetes, which is a common condition. Working closely with your doctor will help you manage your condition and lower the risk of complications.

If you have gestational diabetes you can also have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. However, this can be done by making healthy lifestyle choices, monitoring your blood sugar levels regularly, and seeking prompt medical intervention.

With proper management and care, women with gestational diabetes can have successful and healthy pregnancies.

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