What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is high blood sugar that develops through the course of a pregnancy. The word ‘gestational’ relates to the time of pregnancy and birth. High blood sugar is the result of your body not producing enough insulin. Insulin is a hormone that controls how much blood sugar there is in our blood.
What are the symptoms of gestational diabetes?
A lot of the time, gestational diabetes doesn’t have any symptoms. For most women with gestational diabetes, high blood sugars are picked up on a routine blood test.
While most women experience no signs of gestational diabetes, you may develop symptoms if your blood sugars are very high. These may include:
Feeling the need to pee more
Having itchy genitals
In pregnancy, gestational diabetes is most likely to arise in the second or third trimester. This means you are most likely to experience signs during this time.
How common is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a common condition of pregnancy, 1 in 20 pregnancies will have a diagnosis of gestational diabetes.
What causes gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is similar to other forms of diabetes but differs in the cause.
Insulin is important because it helps move the sugar in your blood into your cells. Hormonal changes during pregnancy can make it more difficult for insulin to work properly – this is called insulin resistance. Some people can produce extra insulin to overcome this resistance, but others can’t. This leads to high blood sugar levels resulting in gestational diabetes.
Who is at risk of gestational diabetes?
Pregnant women at risk of gestational diabetes include those who:
Have a history of diabetes in the family
Exercise very little
Have had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy
Have previously had a large baby
How is gestational diabetes diagnosed?
Gestational diabetes is diagnosed during screening with a routine blood test. At the beginning of your pregnancy, you’ll be asked a few questions about your health and lifestyle. If you have an increased risk of diabetes, you’ll be offered a blood test called the oral glucose tolerance test, usually between weeks 24 and 28 of your pregnancy. If you’ve had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy, you may be offered screening earlier.
Screening involves 2 blood tests which take around 2 hours to complete:
The first blood test is done in the morning as you’ll have to avoid drinking or eating for 8-10 hours beforehand.
Once this blood sample has been taken, you will be given a sweet drink to increase your sugar levels. A couple of hours later, you’ll have a sample of blood taken again.
How can I prevent gestational diabetes?
Preventing gestational diabetes may involve:
Eating a healthy diet
Exercising more often
Maintaining a healthy weight
How is gestational diabetes treated?
Gestational diabetes may be managed with lifestyle changes. These could include:
A healthy diet – an ideal diet if you have gestational diabetes would be low in sugar and salt and high in fibre, fruits and vegetables
If these changes don’t significantly control your diabetes, you may be given medication.
To monitor gestational diabetes and the effect of any treatment, women are often given blood sugar kits to allow them to test their blood sugar levels.
In addition to this home monitoring, you will have more frequent appointments with healthcare professionals to keep an eye on your blood sugar levels and your overall health.
These heightened blood sugar levels often fall after birth and treatment can be stopped.
When should I speak to a doctor?
If you’re pregnant and believe you have a risk factor for gestational diabetes, ask your doctor or nurse about screening.
How can Livi help?
A Livi doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms. They’ll make an individual assessment, recommend a treatment or refer you to a specialist if needed.
- Reviewed by:
- Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi