What Are The Warning Signs Of Gestational Diabetes? – DIABETIC SOCK CLUB

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What Are The Warning Signs Of Gestational Diabetes?

Pregnancy is a magical moment for most expectant mothers. How exciting is it to be carrying a future mini-me? But alongside the excitement and anticipation comes risks specific to expectant mothers. Many changes are happening in their bodies from the beginning, midterm, up to the last push. One of the things that pregnant women should look out for is Gestational Diabetes.

What is Gestational Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic health condition. It affects how the body converts the sugar glucose from the food we eat into energy. When food is broken down, glucose is released into the bloodstream. This is where the term “blood sugar” comes from. When blood sugar goes up, it triggers the pancreas to release insulin. Insulin carries the glucose into the cells to facilitate energy conversion.

In people with diabetes, the body is either incapable of producing or unable to utilize insulin properly. This leads to a build-up of glucose in the bloodstream that, over time, will lead to more severe illnesses.

There are three types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 – this is usually genetic and shows up very early in life
  • Type 2 – this type is primarily diet- and lifestyle-related and develops over time
  • Gestational Diabetes – develops in pregnant women

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States estimates 1% to 2% of pregnant women have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. However, even women who don’t have the disease and have never had it before can get it. Approximately 6% to 9% of women develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy.

What Causes Gestational Diabetes?

Are you at fault for getting gestational diabetes? Did you perhaps, eat a little too much sugar and cause this predicament?

The short answer is no. In Type 1 or 2 diabetes, it really doesn’t matter how much sugar one eats. The issue is not the quantity of sugar ingested but the body’s ability to convert the sugar to energy. 

During pregnancy, hormones are created by the placenta. This has the effect of causing glucose build-up in the blood. Ideally, the pancreas will take this in stride and just produce more insulin to handle the influx of glucose. However, in some situations, it won’t be able to make enough. In other cases, insulin is still produced, but the body somehow fails to use it as it should. Both situations will result in rising blood sugar levels. And boom, you get gestational diabetes.

Unfortunately, even women who choose a healthy living- eating all the right food and actively exercising – can still develop gestational diabetes. And along with that, they increase their risk of eventually getting Type 2 diabetes as well as they get older.

Are You at Risk of Developing Gestational Diabetes?

How do you know if you have an elevated chance of getting diagnosed with gestational diabetes during pregnancy?

Some women are at a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes than others. These are the factors you can look out for to check if you’re at risk.

  1. Weight. Being overweight or obese can lead to insulin resistance. Even before pregnancy, if you are overweight or obese, your risk of developing diabetes while pregnant increases.
  2. Race. Some races are more pre-disposed to getting gestational diabetes than others. These include African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics, Alaska Natives, Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans.
  3. High Blood Sugar. Suppose your blood sugar is already elevated but not enough to be diagnosed as diabetic. In that case, you’re called a “prediabetic,” which boosts your risk for gestational diabetes.
  4. Genetics. It has been said that diabetes can run in families. So if you have a family member with the disease, you are also at risk.
  5. PCOS. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or PCOS is a hormonal disorder. More “male” hormones are created in women with this disease, wreaking havoc with a woman’s ovaries and often causing fertility issues. Sadly, the trouble it generates doesn’t stop there. It’s also a risk factor for gestational diabetes.
  6. Insulin-Related Health Conditions. Because diabetes is closely tied to insulin, if you have any other health condition linked to it, you’re at risk for gestational diabetes.

The risk also increases if you have:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Heart disease

Women who experienced the following are also more likely to develop gestational diabetes.

  • Had a miscarriage
  • Birthed a stillborn baby
  • Given birth to a baby with specific congenital disabilities

Finally, women older than 25 during pregnancy or who have had gestational diabetes before will find their risk level is also high.

Possible Effects of Gestational Diabetes on Babies

Left unmanaged, pregnant women may experience high blood pressure and continue to have diabetes even after birth. Also, it can affect the baby, putting them at risk of:

  • Excessive birth weight
  • Early (preterm) birth
  • Respiratory distress syndrome
  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
  • Obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life
  • Stillbirth

Warning Signs of Gestational Diabetes

It can be challenging to spot whether an expecting mother is experiencing typical pregnancy traits or if it is already a sign of gestational diabetes. Symptoms experienced by normal expecting mothers can be the same as those who have already developed gestational diabetes. These include:

  • Increased thirst – You may find yourself drinking more than usual. You may also feel like you are constantly thirsty, regardless of how hot or cold it is or if you just had a drink.
  • Increased hunger – A pregnant woman may be eating for two, but if you feel like you are never full, even just an hour or so after a meal, you may be seeing a sign of diabetes.
  • Being Tired – Growing a whole new human inside your body is no joke. So, yes. It is usual for pregnant women to feel tired. But if you think you’re more tired than you should be, even for a pregnant lady, then it’s time to get checked for diabetes.
  • Peeing more than usual
  • Having dry mouth – Like increased thirst, feeling parched despite drinking a lot of fluid is a gestational diabetes sign.

Testing for Gestational Diabetes

Screening for blood sugar in pregnant women at around the 24th to the 28th week of pregnancy can help detect and diagnose gestational diabetes. The test involves drinking a glucose solution -an overly sweet, syrupy liquid- and then taking the corresponding blood tests after an hour. It is hardly appetizing, but it is worth the inconvenience.

If a further test is needed, expect to be required to fast overnight. A blood sample will be drawn in the doctor’s office upon your arrival. After which, another glucose solution will need to be consumed. Testing will be done again after 3 hours. If 2 of the 3 blood tests show higher than normal blood sugar levels, you will be diagnosed with gestational diabetes.

If you are at risk, but your test results come back normal, you can usually expect to be tested again later on just to make sure you still do not have gestational diabetes.

Women who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) are tagged for high-risk pregnancy care. This is because numerous complications can arise not just while pregnant but also during the actual childbirth. In particular, women with gestational diabetes mellitus have high preeclampsia risk. This leads to pregnancy-induced high blood pressure.

Another, more rare type of this disease is called Gestational Diabetes Insipidus. This condition usually develops in the third trimester and remits spontaneously 4 to 6 weeks post-partum. It is mainly caused by excessive vasopressinase activity. Vasopressinase is an enzyme expressed by placental trophoblasts, which metabolize arginine vasopressin. This condition affects the function that balances the body liquid, resulting in frequent urination in large amounts. The excessive release of urine is problematic because it can result in dehydration.

Therefore, it is advisable to get checked for gestational diabetes as soon as your first visit with your doctor. This is especially true if you already feel and exhibit the symptoms. You can also check your family’s health history as it might add more information on what else you have to look out for.

Prevention and Treatment of Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes can be scary, both for mother and baby. But the one positive thing about it is it is manageable. 

There are multiple types of gestational diabetes. One can be managed through proper diet and exercise, and the other requires taking insulin and other medications.

Currently, diabetes has no cure. There are also no sure-fire ways to prevent getting gestational diabetes. What most professionals would advise, however, is to start practicing a healthy lifestyle. This would lower the chance of getting it. It also helps prevent you from getting it again if you had experienced it before in your previous pregnancy. 

Here are some ways where you can start. You may also seek advice from your doctors to make sure any adjustments you will be making are appropriate for you.

Nix the sugary snacks. Cookies, candies, ice cream, and cake all sound delightful, but you won’t be doing yourself any favors eating these. Instead, try to eat healthier. 

Fruits can provide you with all the natural sugar you need. Add vegetables like carrots as well as whole grains to your diet. Just be careful and make sure you keep portions to what is acceptable. 

Try to limit your carbohydrates to just 40% of your total calorie intake, with another 20% from proteins. Fat should total less than 40% of your daily intake. Aim to get 20 to 30 grams of fiber. Whole-grain bread, pasta, cereals, oatmeal, and brown rice are all great options. Three small meals coupled with 2 or 3 small snacks will be better than one huge meal.

  • Get proper exercise and/or physical activity.
  • Start your pregnancy at a healthy weight.
  • Don’t gain more weight than recommended.
  • Check your blood sugar.
  • Check your urine for ketones or chemicals that may indicate diabetes.

Switching gears and shifting to a healthier version of your lifestyle is what’s highlighted in most resources. Being more aware of what pregnant mothers take in and adding appropriate physical activity is very beneficial to both the expectant mother and their baby. 

If you are unfortunately diagnosed with gestational diabetes, though, your health care provider should be able to create and discuss a treatment plan that is right for you. You can likely expect:

  • More frequent doctor check-ups
  • More frequent blood sugar testing
  • More frequent urine tests for ketones

You would also need to limit your consumption of refined sugar and carbohydrates. Weight management is vitally important at this point, too. You will need to constantly monitor your blood sugar even at home, sometimes up to 4 or more times daily. You must ensure your blood sugar is still within the recommended ranges:

  • Before Meals: equal to or less than 95 mg/dL
  • One Hour After Meal: equal to or less than 140 mg/dL
  • Two Hours Post-Meal: equal to or less than 120 mg/dL

In worst-case scenarios where management is complex, your doctor may prescribe the use of insulin. 

This is why expectant mothers will be better served to keep good working relationships with their doctors and healthcare professionals. Not only will it help make for a smoother pregnancy journey, but it will also be able to guide you every step of the way and keep you up to date on the status and changes that are happening as soon as it happens.

Any risks concerning pregnancy are intimidating and scary because it’s not only about the baby’s health but also the mother’s. And so, being prepared, working on being your best self, consulting with your doctors are steps you can take to prevent such risks, like gestational diabetes. 

Getting diagnosed with gestational diabetes is frightening. But the good thing about it is it goes away pretty much on its own after delivery.

Keep learning more about diabetes with our other articles here at Diabetic Sock Club.

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