Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that occurs for the first time when a woman is pregnant. This type of diabetes is caused by a change in the way a woman's body responds to the hormone insulin during her pregnancy. This change results in elevated levels of blood sugar, also known as blood glucose.
Gestational diabetes affects an estimated 18 percent of women during pregnancy. It is important to diagnose and treat gestational diabetes to avoid health complications for you and your baby.
What are the risk factors?
The risk factors commonly associated with an increased chance of developing gestational diabetes include:
• Having a history of gestational diabetes in previous pregnancies.
• Being overweight or obese.
• Being older than 25 years.
• Having a family history of diabetes (especially if a parent or sibling has diabetes).
• If you previously delivered a baby weighing more than 9 pounds.
• Having glucose in your urine.
• Being African-American, Hispanic, Native American or Asian.
• Having "prediabetes," also known as impaired glucose tolerance.
How do I know if I have gestational diabetes?
If you are at high risk for developing gestational diabetes, your blood glucose levels will likely be checked at your first prenatal visit. The American Diabetes Association recommends screening for gestational diabetes at the first prenatal visit for women with known risk factors.
If your blood glucose results are normal, your levels will be checked again between the 24th and 28th weeks of your pregnancy. It is recommended that all pregnant women be screened for gestational diabetes at that time.
What happens at a screening?
To screen for gestational diabetes, your doctor will order a glucose challenge screening test. This test requires you to drink a glucose solution and then have your blood drawn an hour after drinking the solution. No fasting is required for this test. If the results are normal, no other tests are done.
If the results are positive, some doctors may order another test called an oral glucose tolerance test. This test is conducted by measuring your fasting blood glucose level, then measuring it again one, two and three hours after drinking a glucose drink.
If the results are positive, your doctor will recommend a treatment plan. Treating and managing gestational diabetes is critical to your health and your baby's health.
What effect can gestational diabetes have?
Gestational diabetes can increase your chances of delivering a baby weighing more than 9 pounds and increase the need for a cesarean section. In addition, hypertension and preeclampsia occur more commonly in women with gestational diabetes. However, effectively managing and treating gestational diabetes can significantly reduce the likelihood of these complications.
Treating Gestational Diabetes
Typically, gestational diabetes is treated and managed through daily blood glucose monitoring and by making dietary changes to help keep your blood glucose levels within the normal range. Some doctors may also recommend an exercise regimen. Sometimes, when dietary changes do not control the blood glucose levels, you may need to start insulin therapy or take other medications. Your physician will determine the best treatment plan for your gestational diabetes, including how often per day you should check your blood glucose levels. Your physician and pharmacist can teach you how to monitor your blood glucose levels at home, how to use the recommended blood glucose meter and how to give yourself insulin injections if needed.
Stick With Your Treatment Plan
To avoid the complications associated with gestational diabetes, it is very important that you monitor and control your blood glucose levels. You also need to receive proper treatment and be screened regularly.
Both you and your baby will be closely monitored throughout your pregnancy. It is very important to adhere to the treatment plan your doctor prescribes to ensure good health for you and your baby. You should discuss any concerns with your doctor.
Although it may seem overwhelming and challenging, the majority of women with gestational diabetes are able to successfully control their blood glucose levels and have healthy babies without any complications if they receive proper treatment and routine monitoring. After delivery, most women with gestational diabetes have normal blood glucose levels and no longer require treatment.
The American Diabetes Association recommends that women who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes be screened for diabetes six to 12 weeks after giving birth. In addition, it's recommended that women with a history of gestational diabetes receive routine screening for the development of diabetes or prediabetes at least every three years. Remember the importance of adhering to your therapy if you have gestational diabetes, so you and your baby can enjoy healthy lives.
Note: This article was originally published Oct. 5, 2012 on PharmacyTimes.com. It has been edited and republished by U.S. News.