Saturday, 3 April 2010

Gestational Diabetes: A Potentially Dangerous Condition for Expecting Mothers

Gestational Diabetes: A Potentially Dangerous Condition for Expecting Mothers

Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that can develop in an otherwise healthy female during pregnancy. During pregnancy, many tests are administered to check for various conditions and one such test checks for gestational diabetes during the third trimester of pregnancy. When blood glucose levels, or blood sugar levels, are higher than normal, the physician will diagnose the expecting mother with this condition.

What Causes Gestational Diabetes

A woman's body undergoes many hormonal changes throughout pregnancy, and these pregnancy hormones affect many body systems. As a result, almost all women have some degree of glucose intolerance producing slightly higher than normal blood glucose levels. This usually isn't a cause for concern in the early stages of pregnancy, however, this puts the expecting mother at increased risk of developing gestational diabetes in the third trimester of her pregnancy.

Throughout the pregnancy, the placenta makes increased levels of hormones to ensure adequate amounts of nutrients are absorbed from the mother to the developing fetus. These extra hormones inadvertently cause blood glucose levels to rise to sometimes dangerous levels. The pancreas, which is responsible for producing extra insulin when blood glucose levels are high, then starts producing extra insulin to counteract the higher blood glucose levels. The pancreas is sometimes unable to meet the extra demand, and the mother will then develop gestational diabetes.

Why is Gestational Diabetes Dangerous

During early pregnancies high glucose levels can affect the developing baby, causing birth defects and an increased rate of miscarriage. The majority of birth defects caused from high glucose levels occur in the major organs such as the brain and the heart.

During mid to late pregnancy, absorption of excess glucose by the baby may cause nutritional problems and excessive growth. A baby who is larger than normal may suffer injuries from vaginal deliveries and emergency cesarean sections may be necessary.

Babies which are born to mothers who have gestational diabetes may have health complications after birth. During their development, they received excess amounts of glucose. After birth, the baby will not receive the high levels of glucose that it had during pregnancy, resulting in hyperinsulinemia. Hyperinsulinemia occurs when the baby's pancreas continues to produce extra amounts of insulin to combat high glucose levels, therefore causing blood glucose levels to drop to dangerously low levels. Low glucose levels in the new baby can cause brain damage as glucose is the "food" that is required for normal brain function.

Risk Factors for Gestational Diabetes

There are several risk factors fro women who are or may become pregnant that contribute to the development of gestational diabetes. Any risk factors should be discussed with a physician, ideally before pregnancy occurs. A physician will be able to make recommendations and prescribe safe treatments to reduce the chance of developing this condition during pregnancy.

Women who have high blood glucose levels before pregnancy, sometimes termed as pre-diabetes, are at a much higher risk of developing gestational diabetes once pregnant. Additionally, women who have experienced gestational diabetes during previous pregnancies are also at a higher risk, as well as those who have a family history of any type of diabetes.

Obesity is a major risk factor in the development of any form of diabetes. If a woman is obese prior to becoming pregnant, her odds of developing diabetes during pregnancy are greatly increased. Also, a history of miscarriage, stillbirth, or a baby who was nine pounds or larger in a previous pregnancy, create an increased risk of gestational diabetes during the current pregnancy.

Treatment of Gestational Diabetes

Many women are able to control gestational diabetes through diet and exercise under the close supervision of a physician. Women who have this condition will need to monitor their blood sugars frequently. A physician will provide necessary information per each women's condition pertaining to desired blood glucose levels. Some women will need to administer insulin to keep blood glucose at an acceptable and safe level during pregnancy.

Women with this condition should eat small meals several times throughout the day. They will also need to monitor weight gain and follow specific guidelines from their physician throughout the duration of the pregnancy concerning proper diet and medication regimes. Exercise should only be practiced after obtaining the physician's permission.

After Pregnancy

After the baby is born, most physicians will administer another glucose tolerance test to ensure glucose levels have returned to normal in the mother. Women who have experienced gestational diabetes have a higher risk of developing other types of diabetes later in life and will need to maintain proper diet and exercise routines.

If a woman who is diagnosed with gestational diabetes follows all instructions provided from the physician, the mother and her unborn child can still be healthy and suffer no permanent health risks after the pregnancy is over.

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