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How Do Doctors Screen for Gestational Diabetes?

If you are pregnant, there is a good chance that your doctor will test for gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes is…(continue reading)

If you are pregnant, there is a good chance that your doctor will test for gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that only occurs during pregnancy. It is important to be aware of the symptoms and treatment options for gestational diabetes in order to ensure the health of both you and your baby as it can cause health problems for both if it is not treated. In this article, we will discuss how doctors test for gestational diabetes and what the treatment options are if you are diagnosed with it.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes, also called diabetes mellitus, is a group of diseases that cause you to have high blood sugar levels. Your body uses this blood sugar, also called glucose, as energy for your cells, and in order for your cells to process glucose, it needs the hormone insulin. When your body stops making or responding to insulin, this causes an elevated blood glucose level that can result in a myriad of health problems. If left untreated, diabetes can cause high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, eye damage, kidney damage, and even death.

What is gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that only pregnant women get. It happens when your body can’t make enough insulin to handle the extra glucose in your blood during pregnancy. When you have gestational diabetes, too much sugar stays in your blood which can have negative effects for both you and your baby. This usually causes your body to stop responding to insulin, which is called insulin resistance. The causes are not fully understood for gestational diabetes although genetics and hormonal changes in your body due to pregnancy are thought to play a role in its development along with other risk factors. It is estimated to affect 3% to 9% of pregnancies worldwide. 

If you have gestational diabetes, you increase your risk for several medical conditions including preeclampsia, depression, and a Cesarean section. Your children may run the risk of being overweight, having low blood sugar, jaundice, and, if left untreated, even stillbirth. Both you and your child also face the risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. 

How is gestational diabetes different from other types of diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is usually temporary and goes away after you have your baby, but it does increase your risk for type 2 diabetes. Other types of diabetes, such as type 1 and type 2, are not related to pregnancy.

What are the symptoms of gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes usually doesn’t have any symptoms and is often diagnosed during a routine blood test for pregnancy, which is why it’s important for all pregnant women to get screened. In some cases, gestational diabetes can cause symptoms similar to other forms of diabetes and these include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased hunger
  • Frequent urination
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss despite eating more
  • Increase in infections, especially vaginal yeast infections
  • Blurred vision

If you have any of these symptoms please see your doctor or health care professional for a diagnosis and any medical care.

What are the risk factors for gestational diabetes?

Although any pregnant woman can have gestational diabetes, there are certain health risks that can increase your chances of developing it. These include:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having a family history of diabetes, particularly gestational or type 2 diabetes
  • Having had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy
  • Being over the age of 25 when you become pregnant
  • Belonging to certain ethnic groups; if you are Asian American, Native American, African American, and Latino/Hispanic you have an increased risk
  • Having polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Being inactive and not exercising
  • Having previously delivered a baby weighing more than nine pounds in an earlier pregnancy

If you have a risk factor or risk factors and are pregnant, please talk to your doctor or health care team about when you should be screened for gestational diabetes.

When do doctors typically screen for gestational diabetes?

Doctors typically screen for gestational diabetes between your 24th to 28th week of pregnancy, but if you have any risk factors they may test before the 13th week of pregnancy during a prenatal visit.

How do doctors diagnose gestational diabetes?

There are two common blood glucose tests during pregnancy used to diagnose gestational diabetes. These include: 

Glucose challenge test

A glucose challenge test is a screening test that is usually done between the 24th and 28th weeks of pregnancy. You will be asked to drink a sugary, glucose drink and then have a glucose measurement. If you have elevated glucose levels, you will be asked to come back for another test called the oral glucose tolerance test.

Oral glucose tolerance test

This diagnostic test is very similar to the glucose challenge test. You will be asked to fast overnight and then have your blood sugar levels checked. You will then drink another syrupy glucose solution and have your blood sugar levels checked again at specific intervals over the next few hours. If your blood sugar levels are high, you will be diagnosed with gestational diabetes.

If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you can still have a healthy baby and a healthy pregnancy. There are many treatment options available to help keep you and your baby healthy throughout your pregnancy.

Treatment options for gestational diabetes

There are several treatment options including lifestyle changes, closely monitoring your condition, and taking your medications as prescribed by your doctor to manage your gestational diabetes and we will detail them all below.

Exercise regularly

Exercising and physical activity helps manage diabetes by lowering your blood sugar levels. It also helps avoid risk factors like obesity and can keep you at a healthy weight. When you exercise your body uses the glucose already available in your blood for energy which results in a lower, more normal blood glucose level. If you plan on exercising, please talk to your doctor to determine what exercise plan will be best for you.

Eat a healthy diet

Eating a healthy, balanced diet helps control blood sugar levels. You may need to eat small, frequent meals throughout the day and avoid foods that are high in sugar, processed foods, and foods containing unhealthy fats like trans fat and saturated fat. Good foods to eat when you have gestational diabetes include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, lean protein sources such as chicken, fish, tofu, and healthy fats such as avocados, nuts, and seeds. You may want to consult your doctor or a dietician to construct a meal plan tailor-made for you.

Monitor blood sugar levels

You will need to monitor your blood sugar levels at home with a glucometer and alert your medical team should your blood sugar levels become too high to avoid any problems.

Medications

If lifestyle changes are not enough to control gestational diabetes, your doctor may prescribe diabetes medications such as insulin to help keep your blood sugar levels under control.

Summary

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that can occur during pregnancy. There usually are no symptoms when you have gestational diabetes. However, in some cases, you may develop common symptoms similar to other forms of diabetes such as increased hunger and thirst and frequent urination. It is important to be screened for gestational diabetes between the 24th and 28th weeks of pregnancy or possibly even earlier if you have any factors that increase your risk of diabetes. To do this, your doctor may perform a glucose challenge test, a glucose tolerance test, or both. If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, there are many treatment options available to help keep you and your baby healthy throughout your pregnancy. If you have any more questions please talk to your doctor or health care provider.

References and Sources:

NPS Medicinewise

NIH

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 Erik Rivera and medically reviewed by Dr. Angel Rivera. 

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