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Gestational diabetes is characterized by hyperglycemia during pregnancy. Hyperglycemia is a condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal. Gestational diabetes affects anywhere from 2 to 10 percent of expectant mothers, and it is one of the most problematic conditions for pregnant women.
Diabetes is generally a complex disease with severe complications if no proper diabetes management plan is in place. In order to understand how gestational diabetes develops, we need to understand how the body breaks down and uses the food that we eat.
The food you eat is broken down into glucose by the digestive system. Glucose is then transported through the bloodstream to the cells that need it for your body to have physical energy. The body's cells utilize glucose with the aid of insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. However, if less insulin is produced by the pancreas, or if enough is produced but not utilized by the cells, glucose levels in the blood will shoot up.
Pregnant women experience a number of hormonal changes that can cause their body cells to become unresponsive to insulin. Ideally, the pancreas would respond to such a scenario by increasing insulin production. But, for some women, the pancreas may not be able to keep up with increased insulin secretion, giving rise to gestational diabetes.
Fortunately for most women, the condition is temporary and normally stabilizes after delivery. The downside is that patients are then at increased risk of getting it again when they become pregnant in future. Therefore, learning proper diabetes management during your first experience might help you better manage your second bout of gestational diabetes if it happens.
Interestingly, gestational diabetes usually doesn't exhibit the classic diabetes symptoms and is only confirmed after a glucose screening. The most common symptom for most women is sugar in urine. At your first prenatal visit, your healthcare practitioner will recommend a screening test for gestational diabetes and, if this is negative, you will have to be screened again at 28 weeks. Note that a positive result on this test doesn't always mean a diagnosis of gestational diabetes. However, a follow-up glucose tolerance test is recommended to confirm or rule out gestational diabetes.
Risk factors for gestational diabetes are similar to those for the main forms of diabetes. Obesity is the first culprit, followed by a family history of the disease. You are also at high risk if you had this form of diabetes during a previous pregnancy. Additionally, high sugar levels in urine may also indicate gestational diabetes.
Other risk factors include high blood pressure, age (above 35), a defect in your previous baby, and a baby weighing more than 8 pounds on your previous delivery.
Diabetes management is extremely important if you have this form of diabetes. It is important to include your family, dietitian, and doctor in your diabetes management plan. Doing so makes the plan more manageable and you are likely to better achieve its objectives.
Having said that, there are a small percentage of women who are considered risk-free and who thus might not need screening during pregnancy. The best thing, of course, is to consult your health practitioner whether or not you have any of risk factors for gestational diabetes.