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No Surprise: Gestational Diabetes Lower In Healthier Women

Gestational diabetes is on the rise. And it’s kind of a big deal because it may cause medical issues for both mom and baby. Unlike Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes is only seen during pregnancy. It’s typically detected during prenatal testing around 24 to 28 weeks and can result in pregnancy complications, especially during delivery.

New study results published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) show gestational diabetes in pregnant women rose between 2011 and 2019 in the United States. It begs the question, why?

“There are a lot of risk factors for it. Some of the risk factors are things that are inherent to the way women are living their reproductive lives,” explains Salena Zanotti, MD, gynecologist and obstetrician for Cleveland Clinic. “Women are older, and we know age is a risk factor for diabetes. Unfortunately, obesity is a big problem in this country and that is a major risk factor for gestational diabetes, as well as pre-gestational diabetes.”

If gestational diabetes is not properly treated, it can increase the mom’s risk of high blood pressure, C-section, preeclampsia, and Type 2 diabetes. The baby is also at risk: many times they are larger than normal at birth, which leads to the need for a Caesarean. The baby also is at higher risk of premature birth, which can result in breathing problems and a proclivity for developing Type 2 diabetes in the future.

While the mother’s blood sugar levels often return to normal after birth, about half of those women develop Type 2 diabetes later in life, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The American Heart Association adds that gestational diabetes also hikes the mom’s risk for future cardiovascular disease.

Although it is usually picked up during testing, gestational diabetes may present with symptoms during pregnancy which expectant moms should be aware of. These symptoms include frequent urination, nausea, thirst and tiredness. Okay, sounds like things that might be pretty common during a normal pregnancy, but if a woman feels this is out-of-the-ordinary for her, it is wise to share the concern.

To paint a clearer picture on how prevalent gestational diabetes is currently, the study looked at data from more than 12 million first-time, expectant mothers in the U.S. between the ages of 15 and 44 years old. The findings revealed the condition increased from 47.6 to 63.5 per 1000 live births from 2011 to 2019. This was seen across all racial and ethnic groups.

Experts, concerned by the increase, continued tracking into 2020 and found it rose 7.8% from the 2019 figures. These health professionals are fearful it might lead to a bigger increase in Type 2 diabetes in the future.

Given the probable connection to age and obesity, doctors have some advice. While age is certainly not something we can control, obesity definitely is. Dr. Zanotti recommends being as health as possible before and during pregnancy.

“There’s not much we can do about our age if we’re going to be older. But, being obese or overweight, that increases your risk, so trying to lose weight and have a healthy lifestyle. Those are things that can help reduce that risk,” she said.

There is medication available to help manage gestational diabetes, but most women can keep their blood sugar levels low through diet and exercise.

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