What is gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is a condition that develops during pregnancy when blood sugar levels are too high. It happens most often during the end of the second trimester and into the third trimester. However, it can develop at any time during pregnancy. Your body may need more of the hormone known as insulin while you're pregnant. This hormone controls your blood sugar levels. If your body can't make enough insulin, you might develop gestational diabetes.

Causes of gestational diabetes

During pregnancy, an organ in your uterus called your placenta provides nourishment to your growing baby. This organ also produces hormones. Sometimes, these substances can cause a buildup of glucose in your blood. This means you have high blood sugar. Usually, your body makes enough insulin to bring your blood sugar back down to normal levels. If it can't, this may cause you to develop gestational diabetes.

Risk factors for gestational diabetes

Any pregnant woman is at risk of gestational diabetes; however, the following are more at risk for developing this condition:

  • Women who are overweight
  • Women with a previous diagnosis
  • Woman with a family history of gestational diabetes
  • Women with family origins from South Asia, China, the Caribbean or the Middle East

Symptoms of gestational diabetes

In general, most women who have gestational diabetes don't have any noticeable symptoms. This is why it's especially important to have regular prenatal doctor visits.

Noticeable symptoms of gestational diabetes may include:

  • Needing to urinate more often than usual
  • Increased thirst and a dry mouth
  • Feeling hungry and eating more
  • Being tired

Diagnosis of gestational diabetes

Doctors can diagnose gestational diabetes by monitoring your blood and checking your blood sugar levels. This normally happens between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. Your doctor may begin tests earlier if you have some of the risk factors.

You start the test by drinking a sugary drink to raise your blood sugar levels. An hour later, a blood test shows how your body processed that sugar. If your levels are elevated, you may need to take another test. You do this after a period of not eating. Once you get a diagnosis, it's important to focus on maintaining good health. This condition usually goes away after you give birth.

Treatments for gestational diabetes

Pregnant women who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes usually need to limit the amount of sugar they eat. They may also need to eat healthy vegetables other nutrient-rich foods to reduce spikes in blood sugar levels. Your doctor will track your weight gain and may recommend you take insulin or other kinds of medication to help you maintain normal sugar levels.

You may need to check your blood sugar four or more times a day. Your doctor might also want you to check ketones in your urine. These are compounds that might show up if your diabetes isn't under control. This monitoring can help your doctor decide if you need other treatments.

You might incorporate a daily exercise routine into your life. Daily gentle walks, prenatal yoga classes and light exercise are great ways to create a new, healthy habit for life.

Recovery from gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes usually goes away once you give birth. However, if you have developed it during pregnancy, you're at greater risk for developing the condition again during future pregnancies. Also, you are at greater risk for developing Type 2 diabetes. This is a lifelong condition. Have your blood tested for diabetes between 6 and 13 weeks after giving birth. Test it every year afterward to ensure normal levels.

You might experience some of the same symptoms associated with gestational diabetes after you have given birth. Don't wait until your next routine visit to discuss this with your doctor. Make an appointment as soon as you can. Your doctor can advise you on how to maintain a healthy weight, eat well and exercise regularly

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