Gestational Diabetes: Causes, Signs, Diagnosis and Treatment


Gestational diabetes refers to diabetic condition during pregnancy. It affects about 2 to 5 % of pregnancies. Learn what causes gestational diabetes, its symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and prevention.


What is gestational diabetes?

High blood sugar level during pregnancy is gestational diabetes. In most cases, it does not lead to any serious complication though careful monitoring of the mother and the baby is required throughout pregnancy. Gestational diabetes usually settles down after childbirth without special care or medication.

What causes gestational diabetes?

Under normal conditions, the hormone insulin prevents the accumulation of glucose in the blood by removing it from the blood and moving into the cells. The cells then utilize glucose for generating energy in the body. During pregnancy, the body develops slight resistance to insulin so that glucose stays in the blood for a longer time, to be carried to the placenta and to the baby.

However, around 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy, the levels of the hormones, human placental lactogen (hPL) and those which are responsible for insulin resistance increase in some women. As a result, insulin resistance increases leading to accumulation of glucose in the blood, causing gestational diabetes.  

Who is at a higher risk for gestational diabetes?

The risk factors of gestational diabetes are:

·         35 years or above at the time of conception

·         Family history of diabetes

·         High blood pressure

·         Obesity

·         Pregnant with multiple babies

What are the symptoms of gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes does not show any characteristic signs. The following are the rare symptoms associated with gestational diabetes:

·         Frequent urination

·         Increased thirst

·         Change in the smell of urine

·         Extreme fatigue

·         Blurred vision

What are the complications of gestational diabetes?

Most cases of gestational diabetes are diagnosed and treated effectively. If left untreated, it can cause:

·         High birth weight in babies

·         Premature birth

·         Risk of baby developing diabetes in the future

How is gestational diabetes diagnosed?

Routine prenatal visits include blood sugar tests which help monitor the blood glucose level of the pregnant mother. If blood glucose level is found consistently high, glucose tolerance test at week 24 will be recommended.

Glucose tolerance test (GTT)

Most doctors recommend glucose tolerance test at 24 weeks of pregnancy. GTT is done in the following steps:

·         Fasting blood glucose is measured

·         The pregnant mother drinks a solution containing 75 grams of glucose.

·         Blood glucose level is measured after one hour and two hours.

Blood sugar levels greater than the following levels confirm gestational diabetes:

·         Fasting blood sugar level: 92 mg/dL

·         Blood sugar level after one hour: 180 mg/dL

·         Blood sugar level after two hours: 153 mg/dL

How is gestational diabetes treated?

Diet and exercise are imperative in treating gestational diabetes. In the case of insufficient levels of insulin, insulin injections will be recommended.

Consultation with a nutritionist about the right amount of calorie intake for the right stage of pregnancy can make a diabetic pregnant mother aware of the right nutritional needs. Choosing healthy sources of carbohydrates, proteins and fats can effectively control blood glucose levels. Also, it is beneficial to have frequent, smaller meals in order to maintain optimum levels of blood glucose.

Can gestational diabetes be prevented?

It is not possible to predict if a pregnant mother would develop gestational diabetes at some stage of pregnancy or not. However, a woman carrying one or more of the risk factors for gestational pregnancy must try the following preventive measures:

·         Maintain body weight within the normal range

·         Follow healthy eating habits

·         Practice regular, mild exercises


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