Gestational diabetes is a temporary form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy when the body stops producing or responding to insulin adequately.
Gestational diabetes can potentially cause some health risks to both the pregnant woman and the fetus. These health risks include:
- higher birth weight of the baby
- premature birth
- low blood sugar levels in the baby at birth
- an increase in the pregnant woman's blood pressure
- a higher risk of the woman developing preeclampsia during pregnancy
Gestational diabetes typically goes away following pregnancy. A doctor will check the woman's blood sugar levels shortly after delivery and then again within 6 weeks.
Learn more about gestational diabetes symptoms and how doctors diagnose it in this article.
Gestational diabetes may not present any obvious signs or symptoms, as many of the changes can be similar to those that occur during pregnancy.
However, possible signs and symptoms include:
- blurred vision
- extreme thirst
- frequent bladder, vaginal, or skin infections
- frequent urination
- sugar in the urine
Any woman experiencing new or unusual symptoms during pregnancy should speak to her doctor. The doctor may be able to determine whether she has developed gestational diabetes or any other condition.
A doctor may diagnose gestational diabetes during a routine health check. Typically, they will ask a pregnant woman how she is feeling and request a urine sample.
If a significant amount of sugar is present in the urine, they may conduct a screening for gestational diabetes.
Most pregnant women will receive a screening test for gestational diabetes between 24 and 28 weeks into the pregnancy. Women who have a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes may need to undergo more frequent testing.
There are two types of screening:
Initial glucose challenge test
The initial glucose challenge test involves drinking a syrup-like substance that contains glucose. After an hour, a doctor will test the individual's blood sugar levels. Anyone with higher-than-normal results will require the follow-up test to determine whether they have gestational diabetes.
Follow-up glucose tolerance testing
For this test, a person will fast overnight. The next day, they will drink a glucose mixture. A doctor will check their blood sugar three times over the next 3 hours.
If two of the three readings come back high, the doctor will usually diagnose gestational diabetes.
According to the charity March of Dimes, seven out of every 100 women in the United States will develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy.
Several risk factors increase a woman's likelihood of developing gestational diabetes, including:
A doctor will focus treatment on controlling blood sugar levels. They will explain to a woman with gestational diabetes how to monitor her blood sugar levels at home. They will also take readings during office visits.
Regular blood sugar tests can help ensure that efforts to control blood sugar levels are successful.
The doctor will also monitor the developing baby's health using ultrasounds. Often, they will recommend inducing labor before 40 weeks to help prevent further complications to the woman and baby.
Doctors often advise making dietary changes and doing regular exercise to help manage blood sugar levels.
Exercise can help the body regulate insulin sensitivity, while a balanced diet can help prevent spikes and dips in blood sugar levels.
The types of food that are usually part of a gestational diabetes diet plan include:
- lean proteins
- healthful fats
- whole grains
- low-fat dairy products
- nonstarchy vegetables
- fruits in moderation
If a woman finds that exercise and dietary changes are insufficient to manage gestational diabetes successfully, a doctor may prescribe medications such as insulin to help regulate blood sugar levels.
Gestational diabetes is not always preventable. However, some steps that a pregnant woman can take to reduce the risk of developing this condition include:
- reaching and maintaining a healthy weight before pregnancy
- eating a balanced diet
- exercising regularly
- attending regular health checkups during pregnancy
Women who develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life.
The baby also has an increased risk of being overweight or developing type 2 diabetes at an older age.
Women who have had gestational diabetes should seek to achieve a healthy weight following their pregnancy. Eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and speaking to a dietitian can help.
In addition, they should ask a doctor to check their blood sugar levels periodically to ensure that they are not at risk of type 2 diabetes. Sometimes, doctors perform a follow-up oral glucose tolerance test between 70 and 180 days after the birth. They will ask the woman to drink a glucose solution containing 75 grams (g) of glucose and then test her blood sugar levels after 2 hours.
Gestational diabetes may be difficult for people to recognize, as many of the symptoms are similar to regular pregnancy symptoms.
A doctor will usually test a pregnant woman's blood sugar levels, and they can diagnose gestational diabetes using the results.
Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, and exercising regularly can help women avoid developing gestational diabetes or reduce the risk of complications if they already have it.