By- Dr Navneet Agrawal
Gestational diabetes refers to the condition being diagnosed for the first time during gestation or pregnancy. Like its other forms, gestational diabetes impacts how the cells use glucose or blood sugar. High blood sugar during gestational diabetes can affect the pregnancy as well as the baby’s health.
Nonetheless, women can control gestational diabetes by consuming healthy foods, exercising, and taking medications, if necessary. By controlling blood sugar, both the mother and baby can remain healthy, preventing a difficult delivery.
Implications And Signs Of Gestational Diabetes
When a woman develops gestational diabetes during pregnancy, the blood sugar usually returns to its normal level after the delivery. But women with gestational diabetes run a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes (T2D). Therefore, it is imperative they get themselves checked more often for changes in blood sugar.
Typically, gestational diabetes does not cause any noticeable signs or symptoms. Most women may not know they have it till they are tested. However, frequent urination and increased thirst could be possible symptoms.
Given its implications, women should seek healthcare early, even before they are pregnant. Thereby, the clinician can check the risk of gestational diabetes together with one’s overall wellness. Once a woman is pregnant, the physician can check for gestational diabetes as part of the prenatal care.
If gestational diabetes does develop, check-ups may be needed more often. These are particularly required during the last three months of pregnancy when the healthcare provider will monitor the woman’s blood sugar level and the expected baby’s health.
Causes And Risk Factors
Researchers are not yet sure why some women develop gestational diabetes and others don’t. Often, being overweight or obese before pregnancy can play a role. Other risk factors may include not being physically active, having gestational diabetes during an earlier pregnancy, having prediabetes, having an immediate family member with diabetes, and having polycystic ovary syndrome. Asians and some other races could also be predisposed to gestational diabetes.
Generally, various hormones help in keeping blood sugar levels under control. During pregnancy, however, hormone levels can fluctuate, making it difficult for the body to process blood glucose efficiently. Consequently, blood glucose levels can spike.
To diagnose diabetes during pregnancy, nearly all nondiabetic pregnant women will be checked for gestational diabetes between weeks 24 and 28 of their pregnancy. At this juncture, a glucose screening test will be undertaken.
If not managed carefully, gestational diabetes can cause high blood glucose levels. This could create problems for the mother and expected child, which includes the higher possibility of requiring surgery for delivery (C-section).
Complications For The Baby And Mother
If a woman has gestational diabetes, her baby could be at increased risk of multiple complications. These include excess birth weight, preterm (early) birth, stillbirth (death either before or shortly after birth), severe breathing difficulties, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), obesity, and T2D later in life.
A study reported in BJOG: International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology highlights the grave risks of elevated blood glucose levels during pregnancy. The study noted that pregnant women at risk for gestational diabetes who weren’t screened, diagnosed, or treated for it ran an increased risk of up to 44 percent for stillbirth.
Similarly, the mother can be affected by complications such as high blood pressure and preeclampsia – a serious pregnancy complication causing high BP and other symptoms that may jeopardise both the mother and baby’s life. Other complications include having a C-section (surgical delivery) and future diabetes.
Diabetes during pregnancy will be treated depending on the woman’s symptoms, her age, and general health as well as on the severity of the condition. Aimed at keeping blood sugar levels within the normal range, the treatment will include having a select diet with minimal amounts of carbohydrate foods and beverages, exercising, blood sugar monitoring, and insulin injections.
Prevention Via Healthy Habits
Though, one must not forget the proverb that prevention is better than cure yet there is no certainty when it comes to preventing gestational diabetes. Nevertheless, the chances of preventing it are better if one develops more healthy habits before pregnancy.
If a woman has had gestational diabetes, the healthy choices outlined below could limit the risk of developing it again in future pregnancies or developing T2D later:
Eating Healthy Foods
Women must choose foods high in fiber (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) but low in fat and calories. Also, watch the portion sizes.
Women can protect themselves from developing gestational diabetes by exercising before and during pregnancy. Around 30 minutes of moderate activity during most days of the week can help. This would include taking brisk daily walks, riding a bicycle, swimming, or other short bursts of activity.
Opting For Pregnancy At A Healthy Body Weight
Women planning a pregnancy are advised to lose extra weight beforehand to ensure a healthier pregnancy. Therefore, one should plan beforehand and adopt a healthy lifestyle before planning a pregnancy.
Avoiding more than the recommended weight gain: During pregnancy, gaining some weight is normal and healthy. However, gaining excess weight too quickly could raise the risk of gestational diabetes. Therefore, women should consult their healthcare provider regarding what would be a reasonable amount of weight gain for them.
If women in the family way adhere to the above guidelines to avoid gestational diabetes, the chances of mother and child being safe before, during, and after delivery would be more likely.
(Disclaimer: Dr Navneet Agrawal, is Chief Clinical Officer at BeatO. The views expressed in the article are those of the expert. Zee News doesn’t confirm this.)