Gestational Diabetes (Pregnancy Diabetes): Symptoms, Test & Treatments

The joys of motherhood come after you go through the highs and lows that pregnancy brings. With each trimester, there are changes in your body and you must learn to adjust with them. These changes can range from something mild like skin changes to acquiring medical conditions that can even cause some pregnancy complications.

One such condition is Gestational Diabetes, a type of diabetes that happens during pregnancy and easily goes away after the birth of your child. Since it is not that uncommon, it is popularly known as pregnancy diabetes.

What happens in Gestational Diabetes?

It is caused by the hormonal shifts in your body that make it resilient to insulin and don’t allow it to process sugar. In the absence of the extra insulin that would be required to overcome this resistance, the sugar remains in your bloodstream. An excessive amount of sugar in your blood causes raised blood sugar, it means you effectively have diabetes. Because it is caused by pregnancy hormones at the root, it is called gestational diabetes.

Diabetes and Pregnancy

Whenever diabetes and pregnancy are discussed, it is also important to talk about who all are most susceptible to getting diabetes in pregnancy. Here are all the women who are more at risk of developing pregnancy diabetes:

  1. Women who are getting pregnant at a later age. 
  2. Those who have had a family history of diabetes are more likely to have it in pregnancy too.
  3. It has been observed that women of non-white origins are more at risk of having it.
  4. If you are overweight by large margins with a BMI of 30 or above, your chances of having diabetes in pregnancy are significantly higher.
Concerning diabetes and pregnancy

Gestational Diabetes Symptoms

In all the struggles and changes that you encounter during these nine months, it will be quite difficult to differentiate symptoms of pregnancy diabetes from normal pregnancy symptoms. Listed below are some of the most common gestational diabetes symptoms you can look for:

  1. You will experience an unusual amount of thirst.
  2. Women may experience increased frequency in urination, as a result of the previous symptom or otherwise.
  3. You might feel tired and nauseous due to this.
  4. One of the more unique symptoms is frequent infections in the bladder, vagina or skin.
  5. Another symptom that differs from general signs of pregnancy is blurring of vision.

Although some of these gestational diabetes symptoms are more discerning than others, one can never be too sure without actual medical testing. Covert symptoms like too much sugar in your blood or urine can only be witnessed through testing.

Gestational Diabetes Tests

The screening or tests for diabetes in pregnancy are usually done around the 24th week of pregnancy or in the few weeks after that. Most of the times, a test for this is a part of your regular prenatal tests.

Your doctor or gynaecologist will give you a sweet drink about an hour before testing your blood for sugar levels. If you have higher sugar levels than what is the norm, you will get further testing to check your blood sugar levels without eating anything. All the data collected will help your doctor infer whether you have gestational diabetes or not. If you are tested positive for it, your doctor would do further tests to oversee continued healthy fetal growth and development along with gestational diabetes treatment.

Pregnant woman taking a gestational diabetes test

Effects of Gestational Diabetes 

Most women who get diabetes during pregnancy give birth to healthy babies without any troubles. But it has also been noted that not managing this issue properly can cause great harm to you and your baby. In fact, there are several complications that may arise if you don’t have a proper diagnosis and gestational diabetes treatment at the right time.

  • Complications for you

    These are the problems that you may face due to getting diabetes in pregnancy:
    1. Future Diabetes – The chances of you getting diabetes again in a future pregnancy are higher if you have pregnancy diabetes with the present one. If you do not take caution and steps towards healthier lifestyle choices, you may even get type 2 diabetes as you grow older.
    2. High Blood Pressure – Many pregnant women also develop high blood pressure as a byproduct of diabetes, something that can even turn into preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a serious condition that can be a threat to your baby along with the increased blood pressure.
  • Complications for your baby

    These are the problems that your baby may face due to your pregnancy diabetes:
    1. Hypoglycemia – There are many cases where babies develop hypoglycemia or low blood sugar after birth. This happens because they have higher insulin production in them, something that can even cause seizure spasms or fits in the baby if the levels drop too low. Breastfeeding them on schedule and if needed, giving an intravenous glucose dose can help prevent that.
    2. Preterm birth and Respiratory Distress Syndrome – You may be at risk of delivering before the due date and have a preterm birth because of the higher blood sugar.
      And children that are born early or whose mothers have gestational diabetes, are often born with Respiratory Distress Syndrome, causing difficulties in breathing. In this case, your child may require help in breathing until their lungs become capable. 
    3. High birth weight – Since it is your own body that nourishes your unborn child, the extra blood sugar also goes to your child’s body through the placenta. Your baby’s body has a normal response to the excess sugar and produces the required insulin. This causes your baby to grow too large and later causes problems for normal delivery. A large baby is more likely to get stuck in the birth canal, get birth injuries or even need a caesarean birth.
    4. Future diabetes – Your child is more likely to have type 2 diabetes in adult life if you have pregnancy diabetes as compared to a child whose mother did not have this condition.

Gestational Diabetes Treatment

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes in pregnancy, your doctor will already be ready with a potential treatment or management plan for the rest of your pregnancy. Here is what you can expect from that treatment:

  1. You will need to test your blood sugar at regular intervals and let your doctor know the results so that he/ she can keep it at normal levels.
  2. The doctor will ask you to do physical activities and exercises like prenatal yoga or something similar if you aren’t already doing it. Exercises keep your blood sugar levels in check effectively.
  3. The most efficient gestational diabetes treatment is having the correct nutrition and diet. You will most likely get a meal plan that will control your sugar levels without curbing any needed nutrition. Eating protein with each meal, a healthy dose of fruits and vegetables along with avoiding processed foods is something you can do on your own too. 
  4. Your doctor might also prescribe some medication or insulin therapy if it is needed.
Pregnant woman following the gestational diabetes treatment

Despite all the potential risks and complications that you read above, gestational diabetes can be managed easily when diagnosed on time. If you are still planning to get pregnant or in the first trimester, you can make changes in your lifestyle and eating habits to prevent it from happening. You don’t have to worry too much about it, just concentrate on being a healthy mother for the little one!

FAQs about Gestational Diabetes

Q1. What causes gestational diabetes?

Ans- There is no certain reason for gestational diabetes other than how pregnancy-related hormones influence your body’s glucose processing. The hormones released by the placenta usually counter the work of insulin in your body, causing the rise of blood sugar levels and subsequently causing diabetes.

Q2. How can I prevent pregnancy diabetes?

Ans- While there is no way to guarantee that something will prevent it, these are some of the best ways to prevent pregnancy diabetes:

  1. Eat healthy foods along with avoiding processed foods and artificial sugars.
  2. Keep your lifestyle active and include regular exercise in your schedule.
  3. Be fit even before planning for pregnancy, especially try to lose excess fat before getting pregnant.

Q3. When should I see the doctor for diabetes in pregnancy?

Ans- It is best to consult your doctor about the possibility of getting gestational diabetes when you are planning to get pregnant. This way, you can know the preventive measures beforehand and get the advantage. After getting a positive pregnancy test, make sure to go for regular check-ups so that the doctor can manage your blood sugar levels as part of your routine prenatal care.

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