Gestational diabetes (also known as gestational diabetes mellitus, or GDM) only affects pregnant women. It is a form of diabetes where pregnant women exhibit high levels of blood glucose during pregnancy even though they have never been previously diagnosed with actual diabetes. This condition can affect anywhere from 3-10% of pregnant women, depending on the population.
Gestational diabetes is typically diagnosed during the 24th and 28th weeks of their pregnancy, so it is recommended the all pregnant women be screened for this condition at that time. The following factors are associated with a high chance of developing GDM include:
- a previous diagnosis of gestational diabetes or pre diabetes
- family history
- the mothers age (the risk of GDM increases significantly after age 35)
- ethnic background
- having a prior child with above normal body weight
- history of smoking
Nevertheless, anywhere from 40-60% of women with GDM have no discernible risk factors at all, which is the main reason why screening for it in the 24th-28th week is so highly recommended.
In most cases, the mother’s blood glucose level returns to normal after delivery. Furthermore, the symptoms are usually mild and don’t pose a threat to the health or life of the mother. Mostly, there are no symptoms. However, when they do occur, they include nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, fatigue, increased thirst, need for urination, as well as infections of the bladder, vagina, and skin.
Gestational diabetes does pose risks to the baby and these are growth abnormalities, low blood sugar, jaundice, and chemical imbalances after birth. Infants that are born to mothers with GDM may also be either too large or too small for their gestational age. When the baby is too large, this increases the risks of complications during delivery, whether with the use of instruments or natural. There is also some inconclusive evidence that mothers with GDM run the risk of developing preeclampsia, which is a form of hypertension associated with high levels of protein in the urine. Preeclampsia is regarded as one of the more serious complications for its potential effects on both the mother and baby.
If a mother is diagnosed with Gestational diabetes, then the mother and the fetus should be closely monitored for the remainder of the pregnancy. The mother should be trained to monitor her own blood glucose levels to ensure that it remains within normal limits. Maintaining normal blood glucose levels during pregnancy helps to ensure the health and well-being of the fetus. Although there is a small chance that the fetus or newborn might die, careful monitoring of both fetus and mother combined with the appropriate treatments will lower the risk of this to almost nil. Mothers that had GDM will still need close monitoring after giving birth in case they develop full-blown diabetes, so that it can be caught early. Depending on the risk factors, there is a very good chance of mothers with GDM getting some form of actual diabetes within 5-10 years after delivery.