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Gestational diabetes

Contents of this page:


Gestational Diabetes
Gestational Diabetes

Alternative Names    Return to top

Glucose intolerance during pregnancy

Definition    Return to top

Gestational diabetes is high blood sugar (diabetes) that starts or is first diagnosed during pregnancy.

Causes    Return to top

Risk factors for gestational diabetes include:

Symptoms    Return to top

Usually there are no symptoms, or the symptoms are mild and not life threatening to the pregnant woman. Often, the blood glucose level returns to normal after delivery.

Symptoms may include:

However, high blood sugar levels in the mother can cause problems in the baby. These problems can include:

Rarely, the unborn baby dies in the womb late in the pregnancy. Mothers with gestational diabetes have an increased risk for high blood pressure during pregnancy and delivery by c-section.

Exams and Tests    Return to top

Gestational diabetes may not cause symptoms. All pregnant women should receive an oral glucose tolerance test between the 24th and 28th week of pregnancy to screen for the condition.

Treatment    Return to top

The goals of treatment are to keep blood glucose levels within normal limits during the pregnancy, and to make sure that the fetus is healthy.

Your health care provider should closely check both you and your fetus throughout the pregnancy. Fetal monitoring to check the size and health of the fetus often includes ultrasound and nonstress tests.

A nonstress test is a very simple, painless test for you and your baby. A machine that hears and displays your baby's heartbeat (electronic fetal monitor) is placed on your abdomen. When the baby moves, its heart rate normally increases 15 - 20 beats above its regular rate.

Your health care provider can look at the pattern of your baby's heartbeat compared to its movements and find out whether the baby is doing well. The health care provider will look for increases in the baby's normal heart rate, occurring within certain period of time.

Managing your diet can give you the calories and nutrients you need for your pregnancy and to control blood glucose levels. You may have nutritional counseling with a registered dietician.

See also: Diabetes diet

If managing your diet does not control blood glucose levels, you may be prescribed diabetes medicine by mouth or insulin therapy. You will need to monitor your blood glucose levels during treatment.

Outlook (Prognosis)    Return to top

There is a slightly increased risk of the baby dying when the mother has untreated gestational diabetes. Controlling blood sugar levels reduces this risk.

High blood glucose levels often go back to normal after delivery. However, women with gestational diabetes should be watched closely after giving birth and at regular doctor's appointments to screen for signs of diabetes. Many women with gestational diabetes develop diabetes within 5 - 10 years after delivery. The risk may be increased in obese women.

Possible Complications    Return to top

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

Call your health care provider if you are pregnant and you have symptoms of diabetes.

Prevention    Return to top

Beginning prenatal care early and regular prenatal visits helps improve the health of you and your baby. Knowing the risk factors for gestational diabetes and having prenatal screening at 24 - 28 weeks into the pregnancy will help detect gestational diabetes early.

References    Return to top

Screening for gestational diabetes mellitus: Recommendation statement. Rockville, MD. US Preventive Services Task Force; May 2008: Ann Intern Med; 148(759-765).

ACOG Practice Bulletin. Clinical management guidelines for obstetrician-gynecologists. Obstet Gynecol. 2001 Sep;98(3):525-38.

Landon MB, Catalano PM, Gabbe SG. Diabetes mellitus complicating pregnancy. In: Gabbe SG, Niebyl JR, Simpson JL, eds. Obstetrics - Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2007:chap 37.

Cunnigham FG, Leveno KL, Bloom SL, et al . Antepartum assessment. In: Cunnigham FG, Leveno KL, Bloom SL, et al, eds. Williams Obstetrics. 22nd ed. New York, NY; McGraw-Hill; 2005:chap 15.

Cunnigham FG, Leveno KL, Bloom SL, et al . Diabetes. In: Cunnigham FG, Leveno KL, Bloom SL, et al, eds. Williams Obstetrics. 22nd ed. New York, NY; McGraw-Hill; 2005:chap 52.

Update Date: 10/28/2008

Updated by: Linda Vorvick, MD, Seattle Site Coordinator, Lecturer, Pathophysiology, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Redmond, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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