According to the latest research, approximately 1 in 6 Australian females who gave birth in a hospital had been diagnosed with gestational diabetes. That works out to about 16.1 per cent of women or 43,100 total.
Have you been warned about gestational diabetes at some point during your pregnancy? Are you concerned that you may have it? Read on to learn more about this condition, the most common symptoms, and what you can do if you’re diagnosed.
What Is Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that only affects pregnancy. Like other types of diabetes, gestational diabetes impacts the cells of the body and their ability to use sugar (or glucose) effectively. Gestational diabetes causes high blood sugar, which can lead to pregnancy and fetal health complications.
Gestational Diabetes vs Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes
Gestational diabetes is like other types of diabetes in the sense that it affects blood sugar balance. However, it is also different from type 1 and type 2 diabetes in the following ways:
- Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack the beta cells in the pancreas, which are responsible for making insulin (a hormone that helps to move glucose from the blood into the muscle cells)
- Type 1 diabetes often occurs during childhood or adolescence
- Type 2 diabetes is a long-term health condition often brought on by an unhealthy lifestyle (poor diet, insufficient exercise, etc.)
- Type 2 diabetes can sometimes be reversed through diet and lifestyle changes
Symptoms of Gestational Diabetes
Gestational diabetes is tricky because a lot of pregnant women don’t experience any symptoms leading up to their diagnosis. In some cases, though, you may notice the following warning signs:
- Increased thirst: If you’ve been drinking more fluids than usual but still feeling thirsty more often than not, gestational diabetes could be to blame
- Dry mouth: If, in addition to excessive thirst, you’re also experiencing a dry mouth no matter how much you’re drinking, that can also be an indicator of gestational diabetes
- Fatigue: Fatigue is common throughout pregnancy, but gestational diabetes can cause you to feel even more tired than usual
How Is Gestational Diabetes Diagnosed?
The only way to truly know if you’re dealing with gestational diabetes is to get tested at your doctor’s office. This test typically takes place when you’re between 24 and 28 weeks along.
Gestational diabetes testing involves drinking a syrupy solution high in sugar. An hour after drinking this solution, you’ll have your blood sugar tested.
“Normal” blood sugar levels are between 4 and 6 millimoles per litre in those who have been fasting. After a meal, healthy blood sugar levels fall somewhere between 4 millimoles per litre and 7 millimoles per litre.
If your blood sugar is higher than 7 millimoles per litre after drinking the glucose solution mentioned above, you may need to do additional blood sugar testing to determine whether or not you have gestational diabetes.
Follow-up glucose tolerance testing requires you to drink a glucose solution that contains even more sugar than the first. Then, your blood sugar levels will be checked once every hour for three hours.
If two or more blood sugar readings are considered high, you’ll likely be diagnosed with gestational diabetes.
Gestational Diabetes Complications
To ensure a healthy pregnancy, you must get tested for gestational diabetes during the 24-28 week window.
Gestational diabetes is manageable, but it needs to be caught early. Otherwise, it can cause complications for you and your baby, including the following:
- High birth weight (for baby)
- Preterm birth (for baby)
- Increased risk of stillbirth (for baby)
- Breathing difficulties (for baby)
- Low blood sugar (for baby)
- Increased risk of type 2 diabetes later in life (for mother and baby)
- Increased risk of high blood pressure and preeclampsia (for mother)
- Increased risk of C-section (for mother)
Gestational Diabetes Risk Factors
Anyone can develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy, including those who eat a healthy diet and live an overall healthy lifestyle. That being said, some are more likely to develop it than others, including women who fall into one (or more) of the following categories:
- Those who are overweight or obese
- Those who do not exercise regularly
- Those who have previously had gestational diabetes
- Those who are prediabetic (i.e., they have higher-than-average blood sugar levels)
- Those who have been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (a condition that often affects blood sugar balance)
- Those who have an immediate family member with diabetes
- Those who have previously delivered a baby that weighs more than 4.1 kilograms
- Those who are older (aged 45 and above)
How Is Gestational Diabetes Treated?
If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, there are a few different treatment options your doctor may recommend, including these:
Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and healthy carbohydrate and fat sources (such as whole grains, fish, and olive oil) helps to balance blood sugar levels and reduce complications associated with gestational diabetes. Avoiding highly processed and high-sugar foods is important, too.
Regular exercise helps to lower blood sugar levels and reduces your chances of developing type 2 diabetes later on. You should talk to your doctor about the best exercise options for you, but many women see great improvements when they combine cardiovascular exercise with strength training (bodyweight exercises, lifting weights, etc.).
If a healthy diet and regular exercise aren’t enough to manage your blood sugar levels, you may need to give yourself insulin shots (in addition to maintaining a healthy eating and exercise regimen, of course).
The latest data shows that a little less than one-third of women with gestational diabetes required insulin treatments during pregnancy.
Final Thoughts on Gestational Diabetes
Gestational diabetes affects many women during pregnancy, and if you are diagnosed with it, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. With proper treatment and a healthy diet and lifestyle during and after pregnancy, you can set yourself and your baby up for long-term health and wellness.
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