The prevalence of gestational diabetes is as high as 9.2%, according to a 2014 analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The American Diabetes Association describes gestational diabetes as, “A pregnant women who have never had diabetes before but who have high blood glucose (sugar) levels during pregnancy.”
I am part of that statistic. During my pregnancy I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. As a physician I understand the medical side of diabetes, but translating that into real-life is much different. When you get pregnant, it’s not just about you anymore, you’re also managing the health of your little one. I soon realized the diligence and time it took to manage blood sugars. I didn’t truly realize what it took for day to day management, until it was me. I exercised regularly before I got pregnant and all throughout my pregnancy. I was really surprised when I got the diagnosis. As a physician, and a woman who’s experienced this, I’m passionate about raising the awareness about the risk factors, but also letting others know that you can still have a healthy pregnancy.
There are some factors that predispose woman to gestational diabetes, including:
- Prediabetes (blood sugar that’s elevated, but not high enough to be called diabetes)
- High Blood Pressure
- A history of gestational diabetes
- A family history of type 2 diabetes
- Hormone disorders, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Being overweight, or gaining too much weight during pregnancy
- Being older than 25
- Being of African, American Indian, Asian, Hispanic, or Pacific Islander descent
- Previously giving birth to a baby that weighed at least 9 pounds or had a birth defect
- Previously having an unexplained stillbirth or miscarriage
After a woman becomes pregnant, they start to experience insulin resistance, which is when the pancreas can’t secrete enough insulin for the mother and baby’s needs. Without the right amount of insulin, blood sugars rise too high, causing hyperglycemia. Pregnant woman will generally get the diagnosis late in the pregnancy, around the 24th week. In the case that a woman has been known to have had gestational diabetes in a prior pregnancy, we will monitor earlier.
If a woman is unable to control her blood sugar levels the baby is at risk for several complications:
- Macrosomia, or an overweight baby. This can cause nerve damage during delivery.
- Low blood glucose levels at birth.
- Higher risk for immature lung development.
- Babies with excess insulin become children who are at risk for obesity and adults who are at risk for type 2 diabetes.
This is a diagnosis which must be taken seriously for the health of the mother and baby.
I know the surprise of getting this type of diagnosis while pregnant, but I also am keenly aware by being proactive you can still end up with a healthy Mom and healthy baby.
About the Author: Jennifer Arnhold, MD, lives with her husband, three-year old son and poodle in the Brainerd Lakes Area. She graduated from medical school in 2000 and performs gynecology and gynecological surgery at Tri-County Health Care in Wadena, MN. You can also see her for outpatient appointments at Embrace Women’s Health Clinic in Baxter.
- H. Gilmartin, S. H. Ural, and J. T. Repke (2008). “Gestational Diabetes Mellitus.” Reviews in Obstetrics & Gynecology.
- L. DeSisto, S. Y. Kim, and A. J. Sharma (2014). “Prevalence Estimates of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus in the United States.
- What is Gestational Diabetes? American Diabetes Association.
The information and opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and are not designed to constitute advice or recommendations as to any disease, ailment or physical condition. You should not act or rely solely upon any information contained in this article without seeking the advice of your personal physician.