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Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes: Introduction

Gestational diabetes is a specific form of diabetes that develops during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes is marked by high blood sugar levels and is a risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes later in life. Complications of untreated gestational diabetes can be serious and include the development of preeclampsia in the mother and developmental problems, respiratory distress syndrome, and excessive growth of the baby.

Gestational diabetes can occur as a result of the normal hormonal changes a pregnant woman's body experiences. During pregnancy, the placenta produces hormones that interfere with the actions of the hormone insulin. In a normal pregnancy, the woman's pancreas, the gland that produces insulin, can compensate for this by making additional insulin during pregnancy. However, if the pancreas cannot keep up with the body's demand for more insulin, gestational diabetes may develop.

The role of insulin is to facilitate movement of sugar (glucose) from the bloodstream into the body's cells, where it is used for energy. Insulin also helps the liver to store excess glucose. When the body cannot process and use glucose properly, the body's cells do not get the energy they need. Medically, this is known as an inability to metabolize glucose, which results in high levels of sugar, or glucose, in the blood. This is called hyperglycemia.

Women at risk for gestational diabetes include women who have prediabetes or have a family history of prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. Other risk factors include being older than 25 years when pregnant, obesity, a history of gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy, and having African-American, Native American, Hispanic, or Asian ancestry.

Gestational diabetes generally occurs during between the 20th and 24th weeks of pregnancy. It usually ends with the end of the pregnancy and the delivery of the baby and the hormone-producing placenta. However, prompt diagnosis and treatment of gestational diabetes during pregnancy is vital to preventing complications for the mother and the baby.

Pregnant women who develop gestational diabetes often do not have symptoms. When they do occur, symptoms may include excessive thirst and excessive urination. For more details on symptoms, refer to symptoms of gestational diabetes.

It is recommended that all pregnant women begin receiving regular medical care as soon as possible in their pregnancies in order to most effectively be screened for the risk for gestational diabetes and other possible complications of pregnancy. Ideally, this medical care should begin before a pregnancy when a woman is contemplating having a baby. For information on misdiagnosis, refer to misdiagnosis of gestational diabetes.

Testing for gestational diabetes includes a glucose challenge test. In this test, a pregnant woman drinks a sugary solution. One hour later a simple blood glucose test is performed. If the glucose level is higher than normal, the woman will need a series of similar tests to confirm a diagnosis of gestational diabetes. If a woman is found to have gestational diabetes, other tests will be performed to assess the health of the baby and the mother.

Treatment of gestational diabetes includes regular monitoring of blood sugar levels and eating a carefully controlled diet prescribed by a health care professional. It also includes regular exercise appropriate to pregnancy as prescribed. It these measures do not adequately control glucose levels, than some women may need insulin injections until after pregnancy and delivery when blood glucose levels generally return to normal. For more information on treatment, refer to treatment of gestational diabetes....more »

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