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Gestational Diabetes is a disorder of the endocrine system that is specific to pregnancy. Gestational Diabetes occurs when a woman’s body fails to properly manage blood insulin levels, which causes a hormonal imbalance. The result is an increase in blood glucose levels.
Gestational Diabetes affects 1 in 7 pregnancies, making it one of the most common complications experienced by expectant mothers.
Development of Gestational Diabetes
Pregnancy sees the development of a brand new organ inside the female body. This organ, called Placenta, temporarily connects the fetus with the mother to ensure its respiratory, excretory, and nutritional needs are met during the gestation period.
The Placenta releases a significant quantity of hormones that can have an inhibitory effect on the mother’s insulin levels. As a result, the expectant mother develops an Insulin Resistance.
When the cells in the mother’s body stop responding to Insulin, they stop absorbing glucose, and it begins to accumulate in the bloodstream. Elevated blood glucose levels result in Hyperglycemia, which causes a variety of adverse effects on the mother’s health.
Gestational Diabetes not only affects the mother but the baby as well.
The risks to the mother are typical of Hyperglycemia, which, if not treated correctly, can cause severe damage to various tissues in the body. Moreover, women who develop Gestational Diabetes during pregnancy are significantly more prone to developing Diabetes later in life.
The risks to the newborn include increased birth weight, premature birth, low blood sugar, and increased risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes later in life.
Unfortunately, several groups are predisposed to developing Gestational Diabetes
● Those with a family history of Diabetes.
● Women who have been diagnosed with Diabetes before becoming pregnant.
● Women who have developed Gestational Diabetes in a previous pregnancy.
● Women who are over 35 years of age.
● Women who suffer from high blood pressure.
● Women who are obese.
● Women who suffer from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.
● Women who smoke.
Women of Asian, African American, Hispanic, and American Indian descent are particularly susceptible to developing this condition.
Most Common Symptoms of Gestational Diabetes
One of the most curious aspects of Gestational Diabetes is that it often causes no symptoms whatsoever. Some women only experience very mild symptoms.
For this reason, a test is performed on all pregnant women between the 24th and 28th weeks of pregnancy to check for the presence of this condition.
When symptoms do occur, they include:
● Blurry vision.
● Excessive thirst.
● Increased urinary frequency.
● Increased frequency of UTIs and Vaginal infections.
Diagnosis of Gestational Diabetes
Because Gestational Diabetes can be entirely asymptomatic, meaning it causes no noticeable symptoms, every woman who becomes pregnant must undergo the corresponding blood analysis to verify its existence.
These tests are typically performed sometime during the 5th month of pregnancy. In cases where the expectant mother has developed Gestational Diabetes in a previous pregnancy, the tests may be performed at an earlier date.
A standard Oral Glucose Tolerance Test, or OGTT, involves ingesting an oral solution of 75 grams of glucose and drawing blood at specific intervals of time to measure the levels of glucose that remain in the blood.
Another particularly useful test for diagnosing Gestational Diabetes is the O’Sullivan test. This test determines the amount of glucose in the patient’s venous blood one hour after taking 50 grams of oral glucose solution.
If the result of the test is greater than 140, a second test is performed three hours after ingesting 100 grams of oral glucose solution. If levels remain elevated after 3 hours, a diagnosis of Gestational Diabetes can be established.
Managing Gestational Diabetes
All treatment of Gestational Diabetes is aimed at lowering blood glucose levels within the normal range. Thus, proper management of Gestational Diabetes hinges on three pillars:
● Blood Glucose Monitoring
● Healthy Diet
● Regular Exercise
Blood Glucose Monitoring
Pregnant women who have been diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes are encouraged to monitor their blood glucose levels through the use of a Glucometer. This medical device measures glucose concentrations in a drop of blood drawn from the patient’s fingertip.
The monitoring of blood glucose is done 3 to 4 times per day. The higher the results of these tests, the greater the number of measurements that will be necessary to ensure proper Diabetes control.
Blood glucose monitoring is most effective right before and after meals. During pregnancy, fasting blood glucose levels should not exceed 95 mg / dL. One hour after a meal, levels should be lower than 140 mg / dL. Two hours after a meal, results should be lower than 120 mg / dL.
Eating a healthy and balanced diet will significantly help women who have been diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes to control their wayward blood glucose levels.
General dietary recommendations for Gestational Diabetes include:
● Avoid the consumption of simple sugars and other foods with a high glycemic index such as pastries, white bread, chocolate, honey, juices, soft drinks, sweets.
● Eat foods that are rich in dietary fiber, such as fresh vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
● Portion control is critical. Control the amount of each food you ingest, especially foods that contain carbohydrates. But be careful, you should not severely limit your intake either. Diet for a patient with Gestational Diabetes is aimed at keeping blood glucose levels within the normal range and balanced throughout the day.
● Eat 5 or 6 meals a day, adapting them to your schedule, but maintaining an interval of 2 and a half to 3 and a half hours. You should also ensure that no more than 8 hours ever pass between meals.
● Decrease your salt intake.
● Altogether avoid the consumption of alcohol and tobacco.
if you have Gestational Diabetes, you should perform low to moderate-impact exercises on a daily basis to control your blood glucose levels.
Regular exercise can help to lower your blood glucose levels without the need for medication. Therefore, the ideal time of day to perform these exercises is when your blood glucose levels are highest.
Low impact exercises such as swimming, stationary biking, brisk walking are aerobic exercises that stimulate your heart rate and help you burn excess glucose. These activities also increase your respiratory frequency and increase the amount of oxygen in your blood. It is essential that you perform them regularly at least 4 or 5 times a week for at least 30 minutes per session.
Gestational Diabetes and Insulin Injections
Women who have been diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes and have not been able to keep blood glucose levels within the desired limits may need insulin injections.
A number of clinical studies have suggested that Insulin injections are the most optimal and effective means of controlling Gestational Diabetes.
During pregnancy, certain oral medications for controlling blood glucose levels are contraindicated. However, the administration of Insulin through injection is completely safe if done correctly.
Like any other person living with Diabetes, women with gestational Diabetes should alternate injection sites between the arm, thigh, buttocks, and abdomen. Abdomen shots are safe during the first two trimesters of pregnancy. However, during the last trimester of pregnancy, it is recommended that injections are no longer applied to the abdomen.
What Happens After Childbirth?
Unlike other types of Diabetes that can be treated but do not disappear once they are diagnosed, in the case of Gestational Diabetes, it generally goes away on its own after the birth of the child.
The only lasting effect of Gestational Diabetes is an increased risk of developing Type II Diabetes later in life.
Therefore, it is crucial that women continue monitoring their post-partum blood glucose levels in order to prevent the onset of Diabetes.
A very influential factor in the eventual development of the disease is obesity. Therefore, losing any excess pregnancy weight should be prioritized by women who developed Gestational Diabetes during their pregnancy.
What Effect Does Gestational Diabetes Have On Future Pregnancies
Once a woman develops Gestational Diabetes, they are significantly more likely to develop this condition during future pregnancies. Moreover, the risk of developing Type II Diabetes also increases.
How to Reduce the Risk of Developing Type 2 Diabetes?
Women who developed Gestational Diabetes while pregnant are at a much higher risk of suffering from Type II Diabetes later in life. Fortunately, there are distinct indications that, if followed, can significantly reduce the risk of developing this harmful disease.
Because obesity and excess body fat are highly influential risk factors in the development of Diabetes, a balanced diet must be maintained in order to keep a healthy weight, as well as a low body fat percentage and low blood glucose levels.
Regular physical activity also becomes imperative. Adult women should aim for 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day.