Diabetes During Pregnancy: Causes and Treatments

Diabetes during pregnancy, also known as gestational diabetes, is a serious problem for pregnant women. Find out why it appears and how it can be treated in this article.
Diabetes During Pregnancy: Causes and Treatments

Last update: 01 October, 2021

Diabetes during pregnancy is also known as gestational diabetes. Although the disorder’s basically very similar to the other types of diabetes, it has its particularities due to the vital moment in which it appears.

In short, the pathophysiology of the disease is the same. The cells of the tissues can0t take up the glucose that circulates in the blood and it rises above normal values for a large part of the day.

Statistics indicate that, out of every one hundred women who are pregnant, there are almost seven who suffer from diabetes during pregnancy. This represents quite a high number. For this reason, the routine monitoring of pregnant women includes blood glucose measurement.

Scientific evidence affirms that, when it comes to pure gestational diabetes, once the pregnancy is over, sugar values return to normal. This can take about twelve weeks to become completely regular. The problem is that the woman who suffered from the disorder is much more likely to develop type 2 diabetes in the future.

Causes of diabetes in pregnancy

The precise cause of the origin of diabetes in pregnancy isn’t entirely clear. We know that the result is a deficiency of cells to utilize blood glucose, but it’s difficult to elucidate why they fail to do so.

In a normal digestive and nutritional process, glucose entering the body stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin. Insulin’s a hormone that instructs the tissues to absorb the circulating sugar and not to leave it in the blood. Under normal conditions, glucose enters the cells and is always converted into energy for the functioning of the metabolism.

In diabetes, this mechanism is blocked. We know that, in pregnancy, the placenta’s a hormone-producing organ. These various hormones have one characteristic in common: They inhibit the action of insulin. When the expected regulation gets out of control, then diabetes in pregnancy appears.

A doctor measuring a pregnant woman's blood sugar.

Risk factors for gestational diabetes

Not all pregnant women go through the situation of diabetes. In addition to the internal mechanisms that trigger it, experts have identified risk factors that make women more prone to it. Among these factors we have:

  • Diabetic history: If the woman’s had elevated blood glucose values in the past, or if she has an immediate family member who’s diabetic, the risk will be higher.
  • Diabetes in a previous pregnancy: If the woman’s already suffered from gestational diabetes, then the risk of suffering it again is higher.
  • Large babies: In the same way as above, when a previous pregnancy culminated in a large baby –more than 9 pounds at birth-, the possibility of diabetes in the current pregnancy is high.
  • Obesity and excess weight: Women who are overweight before becoming pregnant, or who gain excessive weight during the course of pregnancy, often develop insulin resistance.
A pregnant woman showing her blood sugar levels at 147.

Find out more: Illnesses During Pregnancy that Every Woman Should Know About

Treating Diabetes in Pregnancy

Diabetes in pregnancy poses a therapeutic challenge for physicians. Many medications commonly used among type 2 diabetics aren’t suitable for pregnant women. In fact, several of these drugs can alter the development of the fetus.

Therefore, treatment requires strict control that seeks to control blood glucose levels by changing the woman’s habits. To do this, it’s essential to first establish a routine for measuring blood sugar. Until it stabilizes, she may need to check her blood sugar several times during the day with a glucose monitor.

Her diet during pregnancy must be strict. First of all, she must regulate her weight gain so as not to overdo it. And, at the same time, she must develop a dietary plan that doesn’t overload her body with glucose. The challenge for the nutritionist is to plan meals that don’t increase blood glucose levels too much, while at the same time providing the calories necessary for the growth of the fetus.

The other pillar of the treatment is physical exercise. Of course, it’ll be with the limitations that pregnancy involves. Exercise is capable of stimulating the cells to consume the sugar circulating in the blood.

Finally, the treating physician will decide if medication is necessary. Since oral antidiabetics aren’t recommended, the alternative is injectable insulin. And, as the baby’s health is also an issue, the doctor will carry out a greater number of ultrasounds and lab work.

In conclusion

Diabetes in pregnancy is a disorder that greatly complicates pregnancies. However, there are mechanisms to detect the condition in time and address it correctly. This way, both mother and baby can go through the process with the least possible risk.

Therefore, it’s important to comply with pregnancy controls and follow medical indications. If you suffer from gestational diabetes, diet and exercise with professional supervision will be the pillars of its treatment.

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