Is There a Link Between Gestational Diabetes and COVID?

Having COVID-19 while pregnant can be frightening, but will it increase your risk of developing gestational diabetes? Learn what you…(continue reading)

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the way we manage our healthcare has changed. With every health condition, including pregnancy, we need to understand the impact this virus has on the outcome of our condition and how it will affect the type of care we need.

If you are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant, you may be concerned about your ability to have a healthy pregnancy if you catch COVID-19 or have had it in the past. 

You may also wonder if it will increase your risk of developing gestational diabetes. Together, we’ll discuss the impact diabetes has on the body and how COVID-19 may be linked to diabetes, including gestational diabetes. We’ll also discuss how you can care for yourself if you have gestational diabetes.

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition that affects the way the body processes the glucose in your blood. When you eat certain foods, they break down into glucose, a simple sugar necessary for your cells to function properly. 

When glucose enters the bloodstream, it triggers the pancreas to produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps move glucose out of the bloodstream and into the cells that need it. 

If you have diabetes, you either don’t make enough (or any) insulin or have cells that can’t use the insulin very well, or both. Here, we’ll take a look at different types of diabetes

Type 1 Diabetes

This type of diabetes is an autoimmune disorder where the body’s immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas and prevents them from making insulin. People with type 1 diabetes are insulin-dependent, which means they need daily insulin to survive. 

There’s no cure for type 1 diabetes, but modern advances like wearable insulin pumps and blood glucose testing apps make it easy for a type 1 diabetic to lead a full life. 

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is sometimes called adult-onset diabetes because it generally takes years to develop and usually isn’t diagnosed until adulthood — although this has been changing in recent years. 

Children can still develop type 2 diabetes, but it is less common. Type 2 diabetics generally don’t produce enough insulin to keep up with the amount of glucose in their blood, and usually also have cells that have become insulin resistant and cannot readily use the glucose the insulin provides them. This leads to chronically high blood sugar, a metabolic condition known as hyperglycemia.

There’s no cure for type 2 diabetes, but diet, cardiovascular exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce the need for medication and help increase insulin sensitivity.

Gestational Diabetes 

Pregnant women who have never been diagnosed with diabetes may develop gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) while pregnant. During gestation, the placenta releases certain hormones that may impact how glucose is stored in the bloodstream. It can also affect the way cells respond to insulin. 

A pregnant woman may develop this condition if the pancreas cannot keep up with the glucose in the blood or the cells are resistant. Gestational diabetes usually goes away on its own after the pregnancy is over. Still, women with gestational diabetes mellitus are at higher risks of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. 

Although the prevalence of gestational diabetes is high, when properly managed, the condition likely will not result in the incidence of negative pregnancy outcomes or pregnancy complications.

Prediabetes

This condition refers to blood glucose levels that are high but not so high they are considered diabetic. Prediabetes is a reversible condition, but having prediabetes at any time before you are pregnant raises your risk of developing gestational diabetes. 

What Is COVID-19?

COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus disease or severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, is an upper-respiratory disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2. This virus was first discovered in 2019 and has a wide variety of symptoms that affect people differently. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 may include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of sense of taste and smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headache
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort

There’s no cure for COVID-19, and some patients may need intensive, in-hospital care. Many even receive medical interventions in the intensive care unit (ICU). If you have COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends you stay home for five days, hydrate, and take over-the-counter medication. 

If you are pregnant, check with your doctor to ensure your medications are safe for your pregnancy. A systematic review of current research shows that scientists have not yet concluded if COVID-19 infection and low gestational age lead to negative postpartum and perinatal outcomes like stillbirth. 

Because the science is inconclusive, if you contract a SARS-CoV-2 infection, let your doctor, telemedicine provider, or urgent care provider know if you are pregnant and what trimester you are in. These health professionals can provide guidance to help keep you safe and preserve public health.

What Is the Relationship Between Gestational Diabetes and COVID-19?

Although COVID-19 is a disease that generally affects the upper respiratory tract, there are links between it and diabetes mellitus. These links may affect your risk of developing gestational diabetes if you are pregnant. 

Having Diabetes Before COVID-19

Researchers have discovered that having type 2 diabetes is a risk factor for having more severe COVID-19 symptoms. It’s unclear exactly why this link exists, but patients who had type 2 diabetes before contracting COVID-19 had more severe symptoms than patients who contracted COVID-19 and did not have diabetes. 

Having Diabetes After COVID-19

Researchers have also identified a link between the development of type 2 diabetes in patients that fully recovered from COVID-19 but did not previously have diabetes. It’s also unclear exactly why there is an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes after having COVID-19, but the risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes increased by up to 28 percent in patients who had previously had COVID-19.

This high risk factor also increased with the level of care a COVID-19 patient received when sick. If hospitalization was required, their risk of developing diabetes increased. 

COVID-19 and Gestational Diabetes

One study showed a possible causal relationship between women who had COVID-19 while pregnant and a subsequent diagnosis of gestational diabetes mellitus (GMD). These women were within a healthy weight range and did not previously have diabetes

Studies are still limited, and research is still ongoing. If you are pregnant and are diagnosed with COVID-19, your risk for developing gestational diabetes may increase. Your doctor will likely not administer additional testing for you until your glucose tolerance test, around weeks 24 to 28 of your pregnancy.

What Are the Risk Factors For Gestational Diabetes?

You could be at risk of developing gestational diabetes, even if you’ve never had COVID-19. Several other factors are known to increase your risk of developing this condition during your pregnancy. They include:

  • Maternal obesity or having a high body mass index (BMI)
  • An inactive, sedentary lifestyle
  • Having a family history of diabetes
  • Being African American, Asian American, American Indian, Hispanic, or Pacific Islander
  • A previous prediabetes diagnosis 
  • Adanved maternal age
  • A previous gestational diabetes diagnosis 

You can reduce your risk of developing gestational diabetes by making certain lifestyle changes to promote your overall health and wellness before becoming pregnant or during pregnancy. Whatever changes you make, make sure to clear them with your doctor and other diabetes care professionals.

How Can I Stay Healthy With Gestational Diabetes?

Your doctor is your best source of information on how to keep healthy and regulate your blood sugar if you have gestational diabetes, but there are a few things you can do to help.

Get Active

Staying physically active is important for any pregnancy — unless your doctor or gynecology practitioner says otherwise. The American Diabetes Association recommends 150 minutes of exercise per week to keep your blood sugar levels healthy and protect yourself against complications that can arise from any form of diabetes. 

Eat a Healthy Diet

Pregnancy cravings can make it difficult to stick to a healthy diabetes-friendly meal plan, but you can do it with a little effort. Your doctor will help you understand how your body uses carbohydrates and how many you should have daily. 

It’s important to follow your doctor’s guidelines and ensure your carbohydrate sources come from whole grains, vegetables, and fruits instead of white bread, pasta, or sugar. 

Maintain Your Weight

Most women will gain weight during pregnancy, but if you were overweight before you became pregnant, your doctor might advise you only to gain a few pounds. Talk to your doctor about your ideal weight gain goals and how you can stay on track. 

If you find it difficult, consider talking to a registered dietitian about meal planning and healthier alternatives to ensure your blood glucose levels are healthy and your pregnancy is safe. 

Healthy Pregnancies and Beyond

COVID-19 is a disease that can impact your pregnancy and may even lead to gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes interferes with how your body removes glucose from your bloodstream and may result in high blood sugar, which can be dangerous for your body and your baby. 

You can take action to support healthy blood sugar levels by eating healthfully, exercising, maintaining your weight gain or loss goals, and getting regular check-ups with your doctor. 

For more information, check out our blog. You’ll find answers to some of the most frequently asked pregnancy-related questions, as well as information about diabetes and how to maintain your health and wellness for life

It’s possible to have a safe and healthy pregnancy with COVID-19 or gestational diabetes. Diabetic.org is your go-to source for information that helps you make healthier choices.  

Sources:

Gestational diabetes mellitus and COVID-19: results from the COVID-19-Related Obstetric and Neonatal Outcome Study (CRONOS) | PubMed 

What’s the Link Between Covid and Diabetes? – Bloomberg  

Symptoms of COVID-19 | CDC 

What to Do If You Are Sick | CDC 

Fitness | ADA 

Fact Checked and Editorial Process

Diabetic.org is devoted to producing expert and accurate articles and information for our readers by hiring experts, journalists, medical professionals, and our growing Diabetic.org community. We encourage you to read more about our content, editing, and fact checking methods here. This was fact checked by Camille Freking and medically reviewed by Dr. Angel Rivera.

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