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Are You at Risk for Gestational Diabetes?
What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes (pronounced jess-tay-shun-ul die-uh-beet-eez) is a type of
diabetes, or high blood sugar, that only pregnant women get. In fact, the word
gestational means pregnant. If a woman gets high blood sugar when she's pregnant,
but she never had high blood sugar before, she has gestational diabetes. Nearly
135,000 pregnant women get the condition every year, making it one of the top
health concerns related to pregnancy.
If not treated, gestational diabetes can cause problems for mothers and babies. Some of these
problems can be serious.
But there is some good news:
Most of the time, gestational diabetes goes away after the baby is born.
The changes in your body that cause gestational diabetes normally occur
only when you are pregnant. After the baby is born, your body goes back
to normal and the condition goes away.
Gestational diabetes is treatable, especially if you find out about it early in your pregnancy.
The best way to control gestational diabetes is to find out you have it early and start
Treating gestational diabetes greatly lowers the baby's chances of having problems.
Why do some women get gestational diabetes?
Usually, the body breaks down much of the food you eat into a type of
sugar, called glucose (pronounced gloo-kos). Because glucose moves from
the stomach into the blood, some people use the term blood sugar, instead
of glucose. Your body makes a hormone called insulin (pronounced in-suh-lin) that moves
glucose out of the blood and into the cells of the body. In women with gestational diabetes, the
glucose can't get into the cells, so the amount of glucose in the blood gets higher and higher. This
is called high blood sugar or diabetes.
Should I get tested?
| If you are at...
|| You should...
| High Risk
|| Get tested as soon as you know you are pregnant.
If your first test is negative, get tested again when you are between 24
and 28 weeks pregnant.
| Average Risk
|| Get tested when you are between 24 and 28 weeks pregnant.
||Don't get tested unless your doctor or nurse tells you that you should.
Keep in mind that every pregnancy is different. Even if you didn't have
gestational diabetes when you were pregnant before, you might get it
during your current pregnancy. Or, if you had gestational diabetes
before, you may not get it with this pregnancy. Follow your doctor's or
nurse's advice about your risk level and getting tested.
What is involved in getting tested?
Tests for gestational diabetes have two parts. First, you drink about one
full glass of a sugar drink. Then, after a certain amount of time, a doctor,
nurse, or other healthcare worker takes a sample of your blood and tests
the blood to see how much sugar is in it (called a blood sugar test).
If the level of sugar in your blood is normal, then you probably don't have
If your blood sugar level is high, then you might have gestational diabetes. Your doctor or nurse
may want you to take another blood test if your blood sugar level is high. Your doctor or nurse
will tell you more about the test before you take it.
You may have to follow a special diet for a few days or fast (not eat or drink anything but water)
for a few hours before you take the test. Ask your doctor or nurse if you have to follow any
special instructions before you get tested.
What if I don't get treated for gestational diabetes?
Most women with gestational diabetes have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies because they
control their condition. Without treatment, mothers with this condition could have very large
babies. These mothers may have a harder time with labor and natural delivery (through the
vagina). Some mothers need surgery to deliver their bigger babies, which can increase the
mother's risk of infection. Mothers who have their babies by surgery also take a longer time to
Children whose mothers had gestational diabetes are at higher risk for certain health problems:
- As babies, they are at higher risk for Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS), a disease
that makes it hard for the baby to breathe.
- They are more likely to be obese (very overweight) as children or adults, which can lead
to other health problems.
- They are at higher risk for getting diabetes, or high blood sugar, as they get older.
What should I do if I have gestational diabetes?
If your doctor or nurse tells you that you have gestational diabetes, you will need to follow a
treatment plan to keep the condition under control. Most treatment plans include testing your
blood sugar level, eating a healthy diet, and getting regular physical activity. Some women also
need to take insulin as part of their treatment plan.
More and more women with gestational diabetes have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies
because they follow their treatment plan and control their blood sugar level.
Managing Gestational Diabetes: Your Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy, a booklet from the
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), talks about general ways
to stay healthy with gestational diabetes. The booklet combines advice from experts who treat
gestational diabetes with nearly 40 years of scientific research on the health of mothers, children,
and families. It tells you and your family what causes gestational diabetes, what having it means
for you and your baby, and what you can do if you have it.
You can learn more about gestational diabetes and how to stay healthy during your pregnancy
from the NICHD booklet, Understanding Gestational Diabetes: A Practical Guide to a Healthy
Pregnancy. To get your free copy of the booklet, contact the NICHD Clearinghouse at:
Fax: (301) 984-1473
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Public Health Service
National Institutes of Health
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
NIH Pub. No. 00-4818