Gestational Diabetes — Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Gestational Diabetes — Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Are you or is someone you love currently expecting? If so, this article on gestational diabetes may be a helpful resource for you!

As an exciting and life-changing time in anyone’s life, pregnancy can, unfortunately, cause more than just stretch marks and bring you an adorable baby. Depending on the person’s health, genetics, environment, and many other factors, it is possible for a pregnant person to develop a variety of medical conditions that only last for the duration of their pregnancy — one of which is gestational diabetes.

While finding out you have diabetes can be quite a shock to those who feel otherwise healthy and have had no encounters with this disease during their life, it is not uncommon for a pregnant person to develop gestational diabetes during the course of their pregnancy. Unfortunately, due to limited access to quality medical information, many pregnant people are unaware that they are even at risk of developing gestational diabetes, let alone know how to correctly identify their symptoms and get the treatment they need.

Wanting to create an easy-to-read resource on the topic, we have put together this guide to answer some of the most common questions associated with gestational diabetes and what you can do to better reduce your risk of developing it in the first place. Read on to find everything you need to know about this pregnancy-specific condition.

What is gestational diabetes?

Before we jump into explaining the specific causes and risk factors of developing gestational diabetes, we just need to get a basic understanding of the condition.

The first clue to what gestational diabetes is can be found in the condition’s name itself. Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that first appears during pregnancy. While it is possible for a person who already lives with diabetes to become pregnant, their condition wouldn’t be classified as gestational diabetes. The term is reserved for diabetes symptoms that emerge specifically due to changes to the body that occur during pregnancy.

Over the nine months after conception, regular laboratory testing and monitoring are done to identify early signs of pregnancy-associated conditions. From blood work to ultrasounds, there are several early tests conducted to identify patients who are at risk of developing gestational diabetes.

The initial screening for gestational diabetes occurs during the second trimester of pregnancy, typically between weeks 24-28. During this testing, you will be instructed to consume a sugary drink intended to elevate your blood glucose levels. One hour later, your blood glucose levels will be measured to see if your body is able to level out to compensate for the sugary drink. If your blood glucose remains elevated (above 10.6 mmol/L), additional testing will be done to confirm the diagnosis of gestational diabetes.

What causes gestational diabetes?

Now that we know what gestational diabetes is and how to test for it, the next question people have is about how it occurs in the first place. As it is a time of immense change within a person’s body, it is believed that hormonal imbalances are one of the primary gestational diabetes causes. Interfering with the body’s normal ability to process and store sugars, these alterations can lead to the development of diabetes symptoms in an otherwise healthy pregnancy.

This being said, there are some common factors that can put a person at greater risk of developing gestational diabetes. Some examples of these risk factors include:

  • Having an elevated body mass index (BMI) before becoming pregnant
  • Living a sedentary lifestyle
  • Being diagnosed with gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy
  • Having a family history of any type of diabetes 
  • A diagnosis of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • Previously giving birth to a baby with macrosomia (weighing over 9 lbs or 4.1 kg)

It is important to note that just because you may have one or more of these risk factors, it does not mean in any way that you are guaranteed to experience gestational diabetes during your pregnancy. If you have any concerns, we advise speaking with your primary healthcare provider to learn about possible preventative steps you can take before or during your pregnancy.

Symptoms of gestational diabetes

While it is important to understand the basics of any disease to know what is happening, identifying the primary symptoms of the condition is essential for keeping yourself and your loved ones safe. Unfortunately, most pregnant people do not experience any significant symptoms during the early onset of the disease — making it hard to realize they are experiencing it. Depending on the severity of the disease, some pregnant people may notice an increased thirst or need to urinate before they are diagnosed with gestational diabetes. However, these symptoms are also commonly experienced during a regular pregnancy, making it hard to interpret them correctly.

Even though the immediate symptoms of gestational diabetes may not be a huge source of concern, the long-term health complications and increased risk factors during birth tend to be the focus of attention. While a diagnosis of gestational diabetes does not equate to a difficult birthing experience, it is essential to understand the possible complications that both the parent and infant may experience as a result of the diagnosis.

Examples of complications that primarily impact the health of the baby include:

  • Preterm birth
  • Elevated birth weight
  • Difficulty regulating blood sugar levels after birth
  • Poor thermoregulation
  • Elevated risk of being diagnosed with diabetes type II later in life

Complications of gestational diabetes for the birthing parent include:

  • Hypertension
  • Elevated risk of developing preeclampsia (a life-threatening condition)
  • Needing an emergency Cesarean section
  • Future risks of developing non-gestational diabetes

Understanding your options for the treatment of gestational diabetes

Now that you have a better understanding of what it is like to be diagnosed with gestational diabetes, it is time to explore what treatment options are available. Thankfully, in most cases, proper treatment of gestational diabetes is quite effective in reducing a parent’s risk of serious complications. Some of the most effective treatment options include:

  • Adding exercise into your daily routine

    Regular exercise is a great way to regulate blood sugar levels and use any excess energy from a particularly heavy meal. Low impact exercises like walking, yoga, and aqua aerobics are great options for people at any stage of pregnancy.

  • Eating a balanced diet low in processed sugars

    Just like those living with other forms of diabetes, diet plays a massive role in the management of gestational diabetes. It is advised that people diagnosed with gestational diabetes eat regular smaller meals and avoid food high in processed sugars and dense carbohydrates to prevent steep peaks and valleys in their blood sugar levels throughout the day.

  • Monitoring your blood sugar levels

    Daily blood glucose monitoring is a great way to see if you need to implement additional treatment options into your current gestational diabetes treatment program. These measurements can be documented and shared with your primary healthcare provider to create a more personalized care plan as your pregnancy continues.

  • Taking pregnancy-safe blood sugar medications

    If all of the above options are not enough to keep your blood sugar levels in check, pregnancy-safe medications can be used as a backup plan. The specific medications you may require will depend on your personal needs and will be prescribed by your primary healthcare provider accordingly.

While it is great to know how to treat gestational diabetes, what about those who want to learn how to prevent gestational diabetes in the first place? As one of the best treatment options for gestational diabetes, taking steps to live a healthy lifestyle before your pregnancy can help reduce your risk of developing the condition later. Some examples of healthy habits to integrate into your pre-pregnancy routine and action list include:

  • Exercising daily
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight
  • Learning about your family’s health history
  • Speaking to your primary care provider about your questions

Putting it all together

Overall, gestational diabetes is a relatively common health condition that can cause additional complications during birth. This being said, being diagnosed with this condition does not guarantee that you will have a negative birthing experience, that your baby will have health issues, or that you will develop other forms of diabetes later in life. Being aware of the symptoms, following your treatment plan, and seeking medical attention if you feel unwell are some of the best things you can do to keep both you and your baby safe should you be diagnosed with gestational diabetes.

We hope this article has been a valuable source of information for anyone looking to learn more about gestational diabetes, its causes, symptoms, and treatments! Explore our blog to read more educational pieces ranging from diabetic neuropathy to the importance of regular foot care.

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