July 27, 2016

What Causes Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is a condition in which a pregnant woman’s body does not make and use all the insulin needed to process the sugar in her bloodstream. Without the right amount of insulin, sugar (glucose) cannot exit the blood and turn into energy. The sugar instead builds up in the blood to dangerously high levels, called hyperglycemia. A pregnant mom’s blood sugar levels will reach their highest point right after meals. The American Diabetic Association stated that 4% of all pregnant women each year have gestational diabetes. The exact causes of gestational diabetes are not known, but medical experts have a few ideas.

Insulin Blockage and Development

As you probably already know, the placenta is what supports the baby as it grows. There are hormones present in the placenta that help the baby develop. While these hormones are essential for proper development, they can also block the mother’s insulin from taking action and processing the sugar in her blood. This is also called insulin resistance. The longer the woman is pregnant, the more insulin is blocked, and the higher her blood glucose levels will get, eventually threatening the well-being of the child. However, when the diabetes is under control, there is virtually no risk of harm to the baby.

Symptoms and Risk Factors

The development of gestational diabetes usually occurs around the 24th week of pregnancy, but can begin earlier. Any woman can develop gestational diabetes, but some are at greater risk than others are. Those that are at higher risk of developing gestational diabetes include:

  • Women that are over 25-years-old are more apt to develop gestational diabetes.
  • Women that are significantly overweight, with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher are more likely to develop gestational diabetes.
  • Women of nonwhite races including Hispanic, black, Asian, and American Indian, are more apt to develop gestational diabetes. Experts are not sure why race plays a role in the development of gestational diabetes, but the studies show it occurs.
  • Women who have prediabetes, which is slightly elevated blood sugar and often the first indication that a woman will be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes after the baby is born.
  • Women who have a family history of diabetes, especially if her parents or siblings have diabetes, are more likely to get gestational diabetes as well.
  • Women who have a personal history of diabetes, such as having gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy or if she previously delivered a baby that was heavier than 9 pounds (4.1 kilograms), is at increased risk of developing gestational diabetes during this pregnancy.
  • Women that previously delivered a stillborn, are at higher risk to developing gestational diabetes.

All of these risk factors increase a pregnant woman’s chances of getting gestational diabetes. Because gestational diabetes symptoms can be non-existent, it is important to see your doctor or midwife regularly throughout your pregnancy.

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