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Gestational Diabetes: Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention and Complications

Feb 20, 2024

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Causes Of Gestational Diabetes

Symptoms Of Gestational Diabetes

Risk Factors Of Gestational Diabetes

Diagnosis Of Gestational Diabetes

Regular screening for prenatal diabetes

Treatment Of Gestational Diabetes

Alterations in the way of life

Monitoring Blood Sugar

Medications

Close Monitoring Of Your Baby

Post-delivery Monitoring

Prevention Of Gestational Diabetes

Complications Of Gestational Diabetes

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes is the term used to describe diabetes that is first identified during pregnancy. Like other forms of diabetes, gestational diabetes affects how your cells use glucose or sugar. During pregnancy, high blood sugar levels caused by gestational diabetes can be harmful to both you and your unborn child.

Even though any pregnancy-related problem is concerning, there is good news. Pregnancy-related gestational diabetes can be controlled with a whole-foods-based diet, consistent exercise, and medication if necessary. Keeping your blood sugar under control can help you and your kid stay healthy and prevent a difficult birth.

If you had gestational diabetes throughout your pregnancy, your blood sugar normally returns to normal after delivery. However, your likelihood of having type 2 diabetes is increased if you have gestational diabetes. It is necessary to test you for any modifications in blood sugar.


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Causes Of Gestational Diabetes

Researchers are still unsure of the precise reason why some women develop gestational diabetes while others do not. Being overweight before getting pregnant often plays a role.

Blood sugar levels are normally regulated by several hormones. However, the body has a harder time processing blood sugar correctly during pregnancy due to hormonal changes

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Symptoms Of Gestational Diabetes

The majority of the time, gestational diabetes has no externally visible symptoms. Possible symptoms include increased thirst and increased frequency of urinating.

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Risk Factors Of Gestational Diabetes

Risk factors for gestational diabetes include:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Lack of exercise
  • Having pre-diabetes
  • Having gone through a previous pregnancy with gestational diabetes
  • Possessing polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Being close to someone who has diabetes
  • Having previously given birth to a child from a particular racial or cultural group
  • Belonging to a specific racial or ethnic group, such as Asian American, Black, Hispanic, or American Indian

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Diagnosis Of Gestational Diabetes

If you have a high risk of developing diabetes, such as being overweight or obese before getting pregnant, having a mother, father, sibling, or child who has the disease, or having gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy, your healthcare provider may test for the disease early in pregnancy, most likely during your first prenatal visit.

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Regular screening for prenatal diabetes

Your healthcare provider's recommendations for screening tests may vary significantly, but they typically include:

  • Initial assessment of glucose challenge: We'll drink a syrupy glucose solution. An hour later, you will have a blood test to find out your blood sugar level. A blood sugar level of 190 mg/dL, or 10.6 mmol/L, per milliliter, is considered gestational diabetes.
  • A blood sugar level on a glucose challenge test that is less than 140 mg/dL (7.8 mmol/L) is generally considered to be within the standard range, though this can change based on the laboratory or clinic. If your blood sugar level is higher than normal, you will need a second glucose tolerance test to rule out gestational diabetes.
  • Glucose tolerance testing: Apart from the fact that your blood sugar will be checked every three hours and that there will be a lot more sugar in the sweet solution, this test is the same as the last one. At least two higher-than-normal blood sugar readings will result in a diagnosis of gestational diabetes.

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Treatment Of Gestational Diabetes

Treatment choices for gestational diabetes consist of:

  • Alterations to lifestyle 
  • Blood sugar monitoring
  • Medication, if necessary
  • Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels benefits you and your child's health. Close management is another way to avoid problems throughout pregnancy and delivery.

Alterations in the way of life

The way you eat and exercise greatly influences the safety of your blood sugar levels. Because your body is expending a lot of energy supporting the development of your unborn child, medical practitioners generally advise avoiding losing weight during pregnancy. 

However, your healthcare provider can help you set weight gain goals depending on your pre-pregnancy weight. Among the lifestyle modifications are:

  • A healthy diet: The staples of a healthy diet are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and other foods that are low in calories and fat and high in fiber and nutrients. Carbohydrates that have undergone extensive processing, as those in sweets, should be avoided. With the help of a skilled dietitian or a certified diabetes care and education specialist, you can create a meal plan that takes into account your goals for weight gain during pregnancy, exercise routine, food preferences, and blood sugar level.
  • Physical activity: Frequent physical activity is an essential part of any fitness program before, during, and after pregnancy. Exercise lowers blood sugar levels. Frequent exercise can also aid in the reduction of back discomfort, constipation, edema, muscle cramps, and trouble sleeping. With your doctor's consent, try to get in 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week. If you haven't been active in a while, start slowly and gradually build. When expecting, walking, cycling, and swimming are all healthful activities. Commonplace activities, like housework and gardening, also apply.

Monitoring Blood Sugar

Your healthcare team may advise you to check your blood sugar four or more times a day, particularly shortly after meals and first thing in the morning, to make sure it stays within a healthy range during your pregnancy.

Medications

If food and exercise are not enough to control your blood sugar, you may need to receive insulin injections. Insulin is required for a small subset of women with gestational diabetes to meet blood sugar goals.

Certain medical providers prescribe oral medication to regulate blood sugar levels. Other medical specialists believe that more research is necessary to confirm if oral medications are as safe and effective as injectable insulin in managing gestational diabetes.

Close Monitoring Of Your Baby

A key element of your treatment plan is keeping a close eye on your baby. Your healthcare provider may use repeated ultrasounds or other tests to track your baby's growth and development. If, by your due date, or sometimes even before, you don't go into labor, your healthcare provider may induce labor. There may be a greater likelihood of complications for both you and the baby if you give birth later than expected.

Post-delivery Monitoring

Your healthcare provider will check your blood sugar levels after birth and again in 6 to 12 weeks to be sure they have returned to normal. If most of your tests return to this range, you need to have your diabetes risk assessed at least every three years.

If additional testing reveals type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, talk to your healthcare provider about increasing your preventive efforts or creating a diabetes management plan.

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Prevention Of Gestational Diabetes

It is advisable to create as many good habits as possible before becoming pregnant, even if there are no guarantees when it comes to preventing gestational diabetes. Aside from lowering your risk of developing gestational diabetes again, making these healthy choices may also reduce your probability of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

  • Eat healthy meals: Make sure your meals are high in fiber and low in calories and fat. Place a focus on vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Aim for variety to help you meet your goals without compromising on flavor or nutrients. Pay attention to portion sizes.
  • Exercise: You can reduce your risk of gestational diabetes by maintaining an active lifestyle before and throughout your pregnancy. Take a quick walk every day. Take a bicycle ride. Perform swimming laps. Little bursts of movement, like parking further away from the store to run errands or take a little stroll break, add up.
  • Start your pregnancy at a healthy weight: If you plan to get pregnant, losing weight before getting pregnant may improve the quality of your pregnancy. Pay close attention to making long-term nutritional changes,such as eating more fruits and vegetables that will assist you throughout your pregnancy.
  • Focus on making long-lasting dietary changes, such as eating more fruits and vegetables, to support your growing baby.
  • Try to maintain a healthy weight: Gaining a little weight when pregnant is common and good. However, gaining weight too quickly puts you at risk for gestational diabetes. Find out what weight increase is healthy for you by speaking with your healthcare provider. Maintain your level of activity. Engaging in physical activity before and throughout pregnancy can help reduce the risk of gestational diabetes. Make an effort to engage in moderate exercise for 30 minutes most days of the week. Daily brisk walking is recommended. 

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Complications Of Gestational Diabetes

Poor management of gestational diabetes may lead to elevated blood sugar levels. High blood sugar can cause issues for you and your kid, like an increased risk of needing a C-section for birth. Diabetes associated with pregnancy may increase your unborn child's risk of:

  • Excessive weight at birth: Elevated blood sugar levels can cause an overly large baby. Puppies weighing nine pounds or more are deemed exceptionally large and have an increased risk of being stuck in the delivery canal, needing a C-section, or experiencing other birth difficulties.
  • Premature or early delivery: Individuals who have high blood sugar levels may be more likely to experience early labor and delivery of their baby before the expected date. On the other hand, given the size of the child, an early birth may be advised.
  • Severe respiratory problems: Breathing problems in prematurely born infants are associated with respiratory distress syndrome.
  • Low glucose is referred to as hypoglycemia: A newborn may occasionally have hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, soon after birth. Acute hypoglycemia can happen to a baby who is having seizures. The baby's blood sugar can be brought back to normal with rapid feedings and an intravenous glucose solution.
  • Later-life obesity with type 2 diabetes: Type 2 diabetes and obesity in later life are more common among babies.
  • Stillbirth: Untreated gestational diabetes may cause a baby to die before or shortly after birth.

Additionally, gestational diabetes may increase your risk of:

  • Hypertension and premature delivery: Gestational diabetes is related to high blood pressure and preeclampsia, a hazardous pregnancy condition that can endanger both your life and the life of your unborn child.
  • Having a surgical C-section to give birth: Pregnancy-related diabetes increases the likelihood of a cesarean section.
  • Diabetes in the future: If you have gestational diabetes now, your risk of having it later in life is increased. You also have a higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes as you become older.

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