What Is Gestational Diabetes?

Up to 10% of American women get diagnosed with gestational diabetes in their pregnancy, and one fourth of them go on to develop diabetes later in life.  Find out what gestational diabetes is and how its screened. Plus learn about its complications and treatment strategies.

Sanaz Majd, MD,
July 14, 2016
Episode #153

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Along with a bundle of joy, pregnancy brings with it a bag of mixed, novel emotions – excitement, anxiety, potential financial stressors, rearrangement of our career plans, home, and social life, and much more.  The last thing we want to hear is that there could be possibly be something wrong with the pregnancy itself.   

Being diagnosed with a pregnancy complication like gestational diabetes can be quite distressing in an already anxiety-provoking situation.

Gestational diabetes may not be the best news to get during pregnancy, but it certainly isn't the worst either.  In fact, it’s often manageable, especially if caught in time and treated properly.  Let’s learn more about it..


What Is Gestational Diabetes?

Up to 10% of women in the U.S. are diagnosed with gestational diabetes during pregnancy.  It occurs when the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin in order to process glucose (or sugar) that you take in every day.  Blood glucose levels then subsequently rise and cause various complications.  Women who have gestational diabetes have a 25% chance of developing diabetes later in their lives, and therefore should have their sugar levels screened after delivery as well. 

Gestational diabetes can happen to anyone, and that is why we screen all pregnant women for it.  Hormonal changes unique to the pregnancy itself also weaken the receptors that insulin binds to in order to metabolize sugar.  And if insulin can’t bind, the body can’t process the sugar, and sugar levels in the bloodstream subsequently increase. 

Who Gets Gestational Diabetes: Risk Factors

Even though gestational diabetes can happen in any pregnancy, women who already have a risk factor for diabetes before their pregnancy tend to be at a higher risk of developing it:

If you have any of the following, you are at a higher risk for developing this complication during pregnancy:

  • Family history of diabetes (especially a first-degree relative, like parents or siblings)

  • Gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy

  • Overweight prior to pregnancy

  • Over the age of 25 during pregnancy

  • Women of the following ethnicities: African American, Hispanic, Native American, South or East Asian, and Pacific Islander

  • Women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

  • Prediabetes prior to pregnancy

  • Pregnancy with twins or multiples

How Is Gestational Diabetes Diagnosed:  Screening

Patients with diabetes are often without any symptoms (pregnant or not).  Therefore, it’s important to screen for gestational diabetes in pregnancy. This is done typically sometime between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy.  However, for those with risk factors for gestational diabetes, screening should begin even earlier (preferably in the first trimester).  So if you suffer from any of the previously mentioned risk factors, make sure your doctor is aware of it as early on as possible.

There are two ways to screen for this condition:


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