You might have heard doctors asking pregnant females to check their blood sugar during pregnancy. Have you wondered why does blood sugar matter during pregnancy?
If yes, the answer to this question is because of gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes refers to high blood sugar that particularly develops during pregnancy and often gets resolved after delivery of the baby.
Gestational diabetes can occur at any stage of pregnancy, however, it is more commonly seen in the second half. The condition occurs when your body is unable to manufacture enough insulin- a hormone that aids in controlling blood sugar- to meet the extra requirements in a normal pregnancy.
Gestational diabetes must not be taken lightly as it puts both you and your unborn baby at risk. Do not be afraid, though. The condition, though problematic, can be managed well if detected on time.
Am I at Risk of Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes can occur in any pregnant female. You can acquire it even if there is no significant history of diabetes before. You are, however, more likely to develop this condition if:
- Your body mass index is greater than 30.
- You have a history of delivering a baby with weight more than 4.5 kg at birth
- One of your siblings or parents is diabetic
- You have had gestational diabetes during your last pregnancy
- You are a South Asian, African-Caribbean, Chinese, or Middle Eastern
As per the NHS, if any of these factors are applicable to you, be sure to get your screening done regularly throughout the entire pregnancy.
What are the Symptoms of Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is clinically silent and in most of the cases, no symptoms are produced. Your doctor can only pick up your case after detecting the blood sugar levels during pregnancy.
In case the blood sugar levels are excessively increased, the following symptoms may occur:
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination, particularly at night
- General fatigue
- Dryness in mouth
Most of these symptoms are common during every pregnancy and their presence does not always indicate gestational diabetes. Speak to your doctor or midwife if you are particularly bothered about any of these symptoms.
How can Gestational Diabetes affect your Pregnancy?
Most of the women with gestational diabetes have normal pregnancies and give birth to healthy babies. This does not mean to neglect the situation as certain complications may occur.
These complications include:
- Abnormal increase in the size of your baby. This can cause problems in delivery and an increased necessity for a cesarean section.
- Polyhydramnios, which refers to the excessive amount of amniotic fluid in the womb. This can cause problems such as preterm labor.
- Preterm labor, which mostly occurs before your pregnancy reaches the 37th
- Pre-eclampsia, a disorder that increases the blood pressure during pregnancy and causes further complications
- Hypoglycemia or jaundice in the baby as soon as he/she is born.
- Stillbirth, although this is rare.
Suffering from gestational diabetes also implies that your risk of developing diabetes type 2 in future is imminent.
Are there any Screening Tests for Gestational Diabetes?
Screening tests for gestational diabetes usually begin during your first antenatal appointment, somewhere between 8th to 12th weeks of pregnancy. Your doctor or midwife will ask you some questions to assess the risk of gestational diabetes.
If you test positive for one or more risk factors associated with gestational diabetes, further testing is recommended.
The most common screening test used for gestational diabetes is called an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT). This test requires 2 hours only.
For performing OGTT, a blood sample is withdrawn from your body at morning when you have not consumed any food or beverage overnight. You are allowed to drink water during this time but confirm it once from the doctor.
The test begins and you are provided with a glucose drink to consume. Two hours later, another blood sample is taken to detect how your body is handling glucose.
The OGTT is usually performed during 24th to 28th weeks of pregnancy. If you have experienced from gestational diabetes in any of your previous pregnancies, the test might be performed earlier, possibly right after your booking visit. This early test is then followed by a routine OGTT test between 24th to 28th weeks to check if the first test was normal.
Alternatively, your doctor might ask you to keep an eye on your blood sugar yourself with the help of a finger-pricking device.
How is Gestational Diabetes Treated?
If you are suffering from gestational diabetes, the chances of complications during pregnancy can be significantly reduced by reducing the blood sugar levels.
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First of all, you will be provided with a blood sugar testing kit so that you can monitor the improvements yourself.
Blood sugar levels can be lowered by introducing changes in exercise and diet. The majority of the women will require medications, particularly if the changes in diet and exercise are not enough to normalize sugar levels. These medications commonly include tablets and insulin injections.
You will be monitored very carefully throughout the pregnancy up till birth to detect any potential problems.
If you have gestational diabetes, it is advised to give birth before your pregnancy enters the 41st week. A cesarean section or artificial induction of labor may be used if the labor does not start on its own by this time.
Early delivery is also recommended if there is a threat to your baby’s health or if the blood sugar levels have not been managed successfully.
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Are there any Long-term Effects of Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes usually tends to go away as soon as you deliver your baby. However, certain women can develop long-term complications such as:
- Gestational diabetes in future pregnancies
- Diabetes type 2 later in life
You need to look out for these long-term complications by having a blood sugar test 6 to 13 weeks after labor. Repeat the test on an annual basis if the results are completely normal.
Consult a doctor immediately if you develop any symptoms of hyperglycemia such as frequent urination, increased thirst, and fatigue. You are advised to conduct sugar tests even if the symptoms do not appear as in many people, diabetes does not manifest itself.
You will also be advised to manage your lifestyle to reduce the overall risk of diabetes. This will include maintenance of a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and eating a balanced diet.
Research suggests that babies of mothers who have experienced gestational diabetes are likely to develop it too or become obese in later stages of life.
How to Plan for Future Pregnancies?
If you have suffered from gestational diabetes before and are planning to get pregnant again, be sure to get screened for diabetes. Your doctor can help you with this.
If you test positive for diabetes, your doctor must refer you to a diabetes pre-conception clinic to make sure that the condition is handled before you get pregnant.
If you have conceived without planning and wish to keep it, discuss the matter with your doctor and inform him about your history of gestational diabetes.
if you do not test positive for diabetes, you are likely to go through a screening test at booking and later during 24th to 28th week of pregnancy.
Remember that gestational diabetes requires your attention and must be handled for the sake of you and your baby. We wish you a safe and healthy pregnancy!