Gestational Diabetes: Patient experience
What Is Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy due to hormonal changes.
Diabetes is a disease marked by high levels of glucose (a simple sugar that the body stores and uses for energy) in the blood, which can cause a range of health issues.
There are several different types of diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes develops when the pancreas produces little to no insulin (a hormone that regulates the amount of glucose in the blood and helps move glucose into cells for energy).
Type 2 diabetes — the most common type of diabetes — develops when the liver, muscles, and fat cells don't properly respond to insulin.
Gestational diabetes, by comparison, develops only in pregnant women who didn't have diabetes before becoming pregnant.
Gestational Diabetes Prevalence
Gestational diabetes is fairly common in the United States, but its exact prevalence is unknown.
Studies suggest the disease affects between 1 and 14 percent of pregnancies in the United States each year, but these estimates vary by population and diagnostic criteria, according to a 2014 report in the journalPreventing Chronic Disease.
But by looking at information from birth certificates and a pregnancy questionnaire, the report suggests that gestational diabetes affects between 4.6 and 9.2 percent of pregnant women in the country.
This rate doesn't appear to have changed between 2007 and 2010, the report notes.
The rate of gestational diabetes is lower in white women than in women of other racial backgrounds, according to a 2008 article in the journalReviews in Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Causes of Gestational Diabetes
Similar to type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes develops when the body is no longer able to respond effectively to insulin — a condition called insulin resistance.
When the body's cells don't properly absorb glucose, the simple sugar builds up in the bloodstream, resulting in elevated levels of glucose on blood tests.
Insulin resistance in pregnant women is due mainly to hormonal changes, according to the 2008 article.
More specifically, there’s an imbalance between levels of certain insulin- or glucose-affecting hormones in the body during pregnancy.
The hormones that raise blood glucose or break down insulin override those that lower blood glucose, resulting in elevated blood glucose levels.
These hormones include:
- Growth hormones
- Cortisol (a stress hormone)
- Estrogen and progesterone
- Human placental lactogen (a hormone produced in the placenta that helps break down fat from the mother to provide energy for the fetus)
- Placental insulinase (another hormone from the placenta that inactivates insulin)
What's more, other changes during pregnancy — such as eating more, exercising less, and having larger fat deposits — can contribute to insulin resistance.
These changes allow the growing fetus access to more nutrients. The woman's body compensates by producing more insulin — but sometimes even this extra insulin isn't enough to keep glucose levels normal, resulting in diabetes.
Video: Gestational Diabetes: Introduction
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