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Is gestational diabetes serious?

Douglas S. Denham, DO
Family Medicine

Gestational Diabetes is an endocrine disorder that is seen in females during pregnancy. It usually does not present itself until later in the pregnancy. It is caused by the hormones produced in the placenta during pregnancy. These hormones affect the maternal body’s ability to use insulin. This causes the mother’s blood sugars to elevate. The effect of these elevated blood sugars can cause health problems in the fetus. Babies born to mothers with Gestational diabetes are larger, sometimes exceeding 10 pounds. They may experience respiratory distress syndrome after birth as well as hypoglycemia (low blood sugars). And babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes have increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life.

Mothers at risk of gestational diabetes are typically older than 25 years of age at time of pregnancy, overweight or obese, have a family or personal history of diabetes or pre diabetes, and of a non-white race. Your physician will screen you early in your pregnancy to detect gestational diabetes. Treatment consists of dietary changes to help keep your blood sugars down as well as insulin to treat high blood sugars. Generally after delivery of the baby, a mother’s blood sugars will return to normal levels. However, gestational diabetes may pre-stage the development of type 2 diabetes later in life, especially in women who are obese.

If you are pregnant, it is important to seek health care early in the pregnancy in order to detect and effectively treat gestational diabetes in order to have a healthy baby. 

If left untreated, gestational diabetes can cause serious complications for you and your baby. If you develop gestational diabetes, it means that your blood glucose levels are too high. Elevated blood glucose levels during pregnancy can lead to high blood pressure, frequent urinary infections, and preeclampsia, which can even be fatal for you and your baby. If you consistently manage your glucose levels, however, you should be able to prevent many complications related to gestational diabetes.

Angela Lowery
Family Medicine
Gestational diabetes can hurt your baby. With gestational diabetes your pancreas has to work extra hard to produce insulin, but the insulin will not lower your blood glucose levels. The extra blood glucose goes to the baby producing high blood glucose levels, in the baby. The baby's pancreas makes more insulin in an effort to get rid of the blood glucose. The baby then has more energy than is needed to grow and the extra energy is stored as fat. This extra fat put the baby at risk for complications after birth and developing childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes as adults.
Geri Spollett
Endocrinology Diabetes & Metabolism

Yes, it is serious. Gestational diabetes needs to be treated for the health of mother and child. Most women are treated with diet and possibly insulin. High glucose levels are not healthy for the fetus and can contribute to a number of problems such as early delivery of an immature baby. Women who have gestational diabetes are at a much higher risk of developing diabetes later in life.

Suzanne E. Ozbun, MD
Family Medicine
Basically, gestational diabetes, or high blood sugar during pregnancy, can cause the baby to grow larger than it would’ve been otherwise, which may cause complications such as an unexpected c-section. If gestational diabetes is present, we want to know about it because we can take steps to monitor blood sugar and make dietary and lifestyle changes. We’d have women watch their blood sugar, and control how much carbohydrate and sugar they’re eating, to keep blood sugar in control and the baby at a healthy weight.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.