Gestational Diabetes: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Dia…be…tes? You were as fit as a fiddle before pregnancy, so how is it possible that you get diabetes during pregnancy? Gestational diabetes isn’t that hard to catch – let’s take a look at the causes, symptoms, treatment, hospitalization, prevention tips and the postpartum effects.

Gestational diabetes definition

pregnant woman research

Gestational diabetes is a type of carbohydrate metabolism disorder that begins during pregnancy, and the onset is usually not very serious.

All around the world, about 1 to 20% of all expectant moms get gestational diabetes, even though some don’t have any issues with diabetes prior to pregnancy.1Expectant moms usually recover from gestational diabetes after the delivery but are more prone to getting diabetes in the future.

What causes gestational diabetes in expectant moms?

pregnant woman sweet eating cake

Gestational diabetes is caused by the increase in blood sugar levels. The fetus uses glucose as the main source of energy for growth, so the mother’s body prioritizes the production of glucose in order to meet the fetus’ needs. Glucose from the food you eat is converted to energy because of the insulin secreted by the pancreas. However, when you are pregnant, the placenta secretes hormones that suppress the action of insulin. This makes it difficult for the mother to break glucose down, instead, glucose goes to the baby through the placenta.

As the body finds it harder to break down glucose in the body, eating foods high in glucose or sweet foods can cause blood glucose levels to spike. Also, it’s thought that the effect of hormones can inhibit insulin action and makes it harder for your body to break glucose down.

Gestational diabetes: Risk factors

risk factor

The following are risk factors that can increase one’s risk of getting gestational diabetes:

  • A family history of diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Sudden increase in weight gain during pregnancy
  • Maternal age of above 35 years old
  • Has delivered a baby diagnosed with fetal macrosomia before
  • Had positive reaction in urine glucose test
  • Pregnancy-induced hypertension

Gestational diabetes: Symptoms and effects on fetus

pregnant woman troubled doctor

The symptoms of gestational diabetes aren’t easily detectable. Symptoms like getting thirsty or going to the restroom more often can easily be noted but as they are similar to symptoms of pregnancy, so they can be overlooked.

Although you might not have noticed anything amiss, gestational diabetes has a negative effect on both the mother and the fetus. If gestational diabetes becomes more serious, this can lead to pregnancy-induced hypertension/preeclampsia, miscarriage, fetal growth restriction (FGR), poor development, or a difficult labor due to fetal macrosomia. After birth, gestational diabetes can increase the risk of the baby having congenital anomalies, hyperbilirubinemia, or neonatal hypoglycemia. Once you notice symptoms, make sure you get yourself checked and treated.

Do I have gestational diabetes? How can I make sure?

woman doctor examination

Through the oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT), you’ll know if you’re at risk of gestational diabetes. A blood glucose level of above 100 mg/dL at the start of pregnancy should be a warning light to you. Get a 75-gram or a 100-gram OGTT done and see if you’re at risk of getting gestational diabetes or not.

If you take the 75g OGTT, you will be diagnosed as being diabetic if you meet the following 3 criteria:

  1. Fasting: 92 mg/dL or more
  2. 1 hour after test commences: 180 mg/dL or more
  3. 2 hours after test commences: 153 mg/dL or more2

In the event that you take the 100-gram OGTT, you will be diagnosed as being diabetic if you meet the following 4 criteria:

  1. Fasting: greater than 95 mg/dL
  2. 1 hour after test commences: greater than 180 mg/dL
  3. 2 hours after test commences: greater than 155 mg/dL
  4. 3 hours after test commences: greater than 140 mg/dL3

Even though you might have a healthy level of blood glucose, note that the decrease in the action of insulin in the second and third trimester of pregnancy can cause your glucose levels to go up.

Treatment for gestational diabetes

pregnant woman yoga

Treatment for gestational diabetes starts with managing one’s blood glucose level. This is done by managing the intake of carbohydrates. As 1 of the 3 main nutrients including protein and fats, carbohydrates cause glucose levels to spike after meals. Also, try to exercise, but do it within your limits.

 

Diet

  • Decrease sugar intake and have a balanced diet
  • Watch your intake of foods like rice, bread, and grains which are converted to carbohydrates
  • Fix your calorie intake for each day and stick to it
  • Limit your intake of sports drinks and fruits

 

Exercise

If you don’t see any improvements in your condition even after making adjustments to your diet or exercising, then you might have to take insulin to be able to control your blood sugar levels better. You might get called down for more frequent checks if you have glucose levels that are above the recommended levels.

Aftereffects of gestational diabetes

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Gestational diabetes is indirectly caused by the hormones secreted by the placenta which suppresses the action of insulin, and in cases where the hormones play a huge part in causing gestational diabetes, the body will naturally heal itself after the delivery. In order to get your blood glucose levels to pre-pregnancy levels, be diligent when you manage your calorie intake.

Getting gestational diabetes even just once will make you more prone to getting diabetes in future: research says the risk increases seven-fold. Pay more attention to your lifestyle habits after you’re done with the birth and make sure you go for regular checks to ensure that you’re not at risk of any carbohydrate metabolism disorders.

Fighting gestational diabetes

pregnant woman eating salad healthy

Preventing gestational diabetes shouldn’t start only when you’re pregnant. Start before you get pregnant, exercise daily and live as healthy a lifestyle as you can! You won’t be able to turn back the hands of the clock, so don’t wait until you’re in a situation where you can only cry over spilled milk. Start with your very next meal.

Remember that if you don’t take action, nothing will change. Have the healthiest lifestyle you can so your baby has a healthy start at life.