There are many different types of health problems and complications that can arise during a pregnancy, and one of the most common is gestational diabetes. In fact, 2 to 10 percent of expecting women develop the condition, and the American Diabetes Association proposed to lower the diagnosis threshold in 2011, which could increase the number of women who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes to almost one out of every five. So, what exactly is this condition and are you at risk?
What is it?
Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that is first diagnosed during pregnancy. It basically means that there are abnormally high levels of sugar in the blood. In someone who doesn't have diabetes, the digestive system breaks food down into glucose, which is a type of sugar. This enters the bloodstream, where insulin (a hormone produced in the pancreas) helps your cells transform the glucose into energy. Someone who has diabetes doesn't produce enough insulin, or has a problem responding to it, meaning too much glucose remains in the blood instead of being used in cells as fuel.
During a pregnancy, hormonal changes can make your cells less responsive to insulin. Many women don't have a problem making more insulin to combat this issue, but some ladies' pancreases can't keep up with this higher demand, resulting in gestational diabetes.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of gestational diabetes are usually minimal – there are often none at all. However, there are some symptoms that are generally mild and not usually life-threatening. This includes fatigue, blurred vision, frequent infections, increased thirst, increased urination, nausea, vomiting and weight loss even when you're eating more than usual.
What are the risk factors?
There are several conditions that may increase your chances of developing gestational diabetes during a pregnancy. These include being over 25 years old when you're pregnant, having high blood pressure, having too much amniotic fluid, being overweight when you got pregnant, having a family history of diabetes or previously giving birth to a big baby or a child with a birth defect. Excessive weight gain during the first trimester is also linked to a greater chance of developing the condition.
What is the treatment and outlook?
The good news is that high blood sugar levels usually go back to normal after pregnancy, leaving many women perfectly healthy. However, it's important to regulate your blood sugar levels during your pregnancy if you develop gestational diabetes for the health of your little one. You can do this through diet – eat moderate amounts of protein and fat, get your carbs from fruit, vegetables and complex carbohydrates and stay away from food with lots of sugar. If this doesn't help, your doctor may prescribe you medication or insulin therapy.