What is gestational diabetes?

Catherine Bagley, DO
OBGYN (Obstetrics & Gynecology)
Women who have high blood glucose (the main sugar found in the blood, and the body’s main source of energy) during pregnancy are said to have gestational diabetes (GDM). Glucose is processed by insulin and, during pregnancy, some women are either not able to produce enough insulin, or not able to utilize their own insulin well enough to control their blood sugar. Almost 10% of all pregnant women in the United States are diagnosed with GDM.
Greenville Health System
Gestational diabetes is diabetes that is found for the first time when a woman is pregnant. Out of every 100 pregnant women in the United States, three to eight get gestational diabetes. Diabetes means that your blood glucose (also called blood sugar) is too high. Your body uses glucose for energy. But too much glucose in your blood can be harmful. When you are pregnant, too much glucose is not good for your baby.

This information is based on source information from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
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Intermountain Healthcare
Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that occurs only during pregnancy. If you have gestational diabetes, you and your developing baby are likely to have high blood glucose (too much glucose -- or “sugar” -- in the blood). This can cause problems for both of you during the pregnancy, at birth and in the years to come. Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to help control your blood glucose and lower health risks. Following a meal plan is one of the most important parts of your treatment. Your doctor or other healthcare provider (registered dietitian or diabetes educator) will work with you to develop a personalized meal plan.
Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that occurs because of pregnancy-induced changes in the way your body processes sugar (glucose) from food, leading to high blood sugar levels. An estimated three to five percent of all pregnant women in the United States are diagnosed with the condition. It doesn't cause birth defects because women with the condition don't experience abnormal blood sugar levels during the first trimester, when most diabetes-related birth defects occur. However, if your blood sugar remains high, the baby may grow too large to pass easily through your birth canal.

Diabetes first diagnosed during pregnancy is called gestational diabetes and occurs in about 7 percent of pregnant women. It's usually a temporary condition that goes away after pregnancy, but in some women it can continue even after childbirth. Gestational diabetes increases a woman's risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.

Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) is a state of carbohydrate intolerance during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes is a characterized by high blood sugar (glucose) levels that are first recognized during the second trimester of pregnancy.

Gestational diabetes occurs when the pregnant woman’s body is not able to make and use all the insulin it needs for glucose metabolism. Without enough insulin, glucose cannot leave the blood and be changed to energy. As a result glucose builds up in the blood to high levels, a condition called hyperglycemia.

William Lee Dubois
Endocrinology Diabetes & Metabolism
If you are a man this won’t happen to you. Gestational diabetes is often viewed as a “temporary” diabetes that strikes some pregnant women. Actually it’ll hit more than 4% of pregnant women—over 135,000 American women last year—and the rate is rising.

But I’m here to share a secret. It really isn’t some mysterious temporary ailment that will go away. We should rename it. It should be called
Preview Diabetes.

Gestational diabetes is your crystal ball. Your look into the future. If you had GD, I’ll put money on the fact that once you are old enough or heavy
enough, you’ll get T-2. The distilled fact of the matter is that a pregnancy is so hard on a woman’s body that it temporarily fast-forwards her age
about 10 years.

So we’ve got an increase in “age” and an increase in weight and boom: diabetes shows up. After giving birth it goes away in most cases. But it isn’t really gone. It is lurking under the surface like a hungry shark waiting for her to get old enough or fat enough…

Gestational diabetes is diabetes that develops during pregnancy. The mother’s blood glucose rises in response to hormones secreted during pregnancy, and the mother cannot produce enough insulin to handle the higher blood glucose levels. Although gestational diabetes usually goes away after pregnancy, about 60 percent of women who have had gestational diabetes eventually develop type 2 diabetes.

When you are pregnant, your body needs more insulin than before because of the increased production of hormones that lead to insulin resistance. In gestational diabetes, the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to overcome this resistance. Gestational diabetes is treated much like type 2 diabetes. Most women start with meal planning and regular exercise. But, if diet and exercise do not keep blood glucose levels very close to normal, insulin is the next course of action. Diabetes pills are not prescribed during pregnancy because of the risk to the baby.

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that only develops during pregnancy. The pregnancy hormones produced by the placenta cause the body's cells to become resistant to insulin. Women who develop gestational diabetes are at risk for developing diabetes later in life, but many only experience this disease during pregnancy. Babies born to women with gestational diabetes are at a higher risk for developing diabetes later in life, but this can be prevented if gestational diabetes is managed well during pregnancy.

Like other forms of diabetes, gestational diabetes causes elevated blood glucose levels. Therefore, complications can be avoided or lessened as long as you stabilize your blood glucose throughout the pregnancy. This involves monitoring your blood glucose regularly, eating a sensible diet, and performing regular exercise. If you have a history of gestational diabetes, see your doctor before you become pregnant to discuss your best treatment options.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Many of us assume that the only way to get diabetes is by pummeling your insides with a four-a-day cheesecake habit, but gestational diabetes in pregnant women works a bit differently.

To see exactly how it works, we need to look at glucose metabolism. A hormone (hPL) produced by placenta to causes changes that increase maternal blood glucose, this leaves more glucose circulating in mom's bloodstream, available to satisfy the glucose-greedy fetus. That's a good thing, but it doesn't come without a price.

To counteract those rising sugar levels as your pregnancy progresses, you secrete more insulin. So the placenta responds by pumping out even more hPL, which limits the effectiveness of that extra insulin. If your muscles and liver cannot easily use up all that sugar, you may end up with too much glucose in your blood. That's called insulin resistance, and in some moms (especially those who have additional risk factors), the vicious hPL-insulin cycle escalates into full-blown gestational diabetes.

As a response, a series of hormones produced by the uterus and mom's body - namely cortisol (the stress hormone), leptin (a hunger hormone) and adiponectin (an inflammation reducing hormone) - all flood mom's bloodstream, and further contribute to higher glucose. And this vicious cycle continues when there's too much glucose and insulin resistance during pregnancy.

Today, all pregnant women get screened for diabetes - even those at low risk (under 25, not obese, white, and no family history of diabetes). If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, your doctor will put you on a special diet, encourage you to exercise, and teach you how to monitor your blood sugar level, which you'll have to test several times a day.
YOU: Having a Baby: The Owner's Manual to a Happy and Healthy Pregnancy

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Continue Learning about Gestational Diabetes

Gestational Diabetes

When you develop diabetes, or high blood sugar, during pregnancy, it is known as gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM). Some of the risk factors for developing GDM include being older than 25, a family history of diabetes, having al...

ready had a baby who weighed more than 9 pounds and being Hispanic or African-American. You may not have any symptoms, but if you do they might be blurred vision, fatigue, have frequent infections or increased thirst and urination. You may also have nausea and vomiting or unexplained weight loss. The goal of treatment is to keep your blood sugar at a healthy level and to make sure your fetus is healthy. See you doctor for regular prenatal visits during your pregnancy.

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.