Signs of Gestational Diabetes – What to Look for in Pregnancy

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Gestational diabetes occurs to about 4% of all pregnant women and generally begins to show up in the last trimester around 28 weeks gestation.

Are you a candidate for developing gestational diabetes?

What should you know about identifying gestational diabetes?

When the body is functioning normally, the pancreas makes the proper amount of insulin. Insulin is a hormone that regulates the correct amount of blood sugar in the body which is used as fuel.

During pregnancy, the placenta creates its own hormones. Sometimes, these hormones can create a reaction, known as resistance, in the body that blocks the insulin. Insulin resistance can happen anytime, generally between the 24 and 28 weeks, and the blood does not move properly throughout the body and creates a buildup of sugar called hyperglycemia. The mother’s hyperglycemia can cause the baby’s pancreas to start producing more insulin than normal. The Mayo Clinic states, “Gestational diabetes affects how your cells use sugar (glucose).”

Screening for Gestational Diabetes at 24-28 Weeks

Not all women have noticeable signs or symptoms to identify this complication of pregnancy which is one reason why all women are screened for gestational diabetes between 24-28 weeks of pregnancy. The screening test involves drinking an oral glucose solution and then having your blood glucose levels tested in one hour.

If the mother does not pass the one-hour glucose challenge test, she will need to take a three-hour glucose tolerance diagnostic test to verify with certainty whether or not she has gestational diabetes.

Risk Factors for Gestational Diabetes

Certain mothers are more at risk for developing gestational diabetes. Some of those risk factors include:

  • Are older than 25 when you are pregnant
  • Family or previous history of gestational diabetes
  • Were overweight before your pregnancy
  • Race – Women who are black, Asian, Hispanic or American Indian are at higher risk
  • Gave birth to a baby that weighed more than 9 pounds or had a birth defect
  • Have sugar (glucose) in your urine when you see your doctor for a regular prenatal visit
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Have too much amniotic fluid
  • Have had an unexplained miscarriage or stillbirth

Bear in mind that you can still develop gestational diabetes without having any of the above risk factors.

What are the Risks to Mother and Baby?

If glucose levels are not monitored and controlled, the baby can grow larger than normally expected. The American Diabetes Association reports, “Extra blood glucose goes through the placenta, giving the baby high blood glucose levels. This causes the baby’s pancreas to make extra insulin to get rid of the blood glucose. Since the baby is getting more energy than it needs to grow and develop, the extra energy is stored as fat. This can lead to macrosomia, or a “fat” baby.”

This can increase the chance of c-section and also for the baby to have birth injury or trauma (to shoulders in particular) during a vaginal birth.

Babies born from a gestational diabetes pregnancy also have higher incidences of low blood sugar, also known as hyperglycemia. This may last a few days. GD babies have higher rates of becoming obese children and having Type 2 diabetes as adults.

Do You Have Gestational Diabetes – Possible Signs of Gestational Diabetes

Are there ways to identify gestational diabetes even before having confirmation from a screening blood test? The truth is that in most cases gestational diabetes is a silent disease that can be present without noticeable signs to look for.

However, here are a few potential signs that may occur in women with gestational diabetes:

  1. Constant and increased thirst
  2. Frequent urination
  3. Increased hunger
  4. Unexplained blurred vision

Since all of these signs and symptoms either occur normally in pregnancy or are present in other pregnancy complications, it is understandable that many women could miss identifying gestational diabetes prior to being screened. It is important that any expectant mother see her care provider should she observe any of these signs of gestational diabetes.

How is it Tested?

The one hour glucose tolerance test (GTT) is conducted during the 24th to 28th week. During this test, the doctor may request a twelve hour prior fast. After arriving at the doctor’s office, a glucose drink (usually orange in flavor) will be given and must be finished in 5 minutes time. A blood draw will be taken one hour later. If the one hour shows high levels of sugar in the blood, the mother will need to take the three hour glucose test.

The three hour glucose test requires a twelve hour fast beforehand also. The initial blood draw will be taken before or at the same time as the glucose drink is administered. Three more blood draws will be needed, every hour. The lab will switch arms every hour.

If the three hour test indicates high sugar levels, the doctor’s office will confirm gestational diabetes. Your doctor may direct you to specialists that compliment their own monitoring.

How is it Treated?

Women affected by gestational diabetes will be provided information and may be asked to take a class on gestational diabetes, proper diet and diet restrictions, blood testing and insulin injections. Many times gestational diabetes is controlled with diet and exercise. The OB or specialist will monitor sugar numbers on a weekly basis to ensure that mother and baby are doing well.

Other follow up monitoring can include fetal non-stress tests, bio physical profiles and fetal movement counts (kick counts).

Conclusion

Once moms are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, they will need to be monitored throughout pregnancy to maintain their glucose levels. The good news about having this condition is that it is typically easily treatable, often through a specific diet for gestational diabetes.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a doctor for advice.

  • National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC): What I need to know about Gestational Diabetes;
  • American Diabetes Association: What is Gestational Diabetes?;
  • A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia. Gestational Diabetes: Glucose intolerance during pregnancy;
  • The Mayo Clinic: Gestational Diabetes.