Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that affects pregnant women. Like other forms of diabetes mellitus, the condition leads to a raised blood sugar level.
The islet cells of the pancreas normally produce a hormone called insulin, a hormone that helps the body regulate blood sugar and use it as a source of energy. The two main types of diabetes are type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the body produces no insulin and symptoms usually manifest early on in life. This condition is also referred to as juvenile diabetes or early-onset diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, the body fails to produce enough insulin to meet its requirements and/or or the cells of the body do not respond adequately to the amount of insulin produced by the pancreas.
In gestational diabetes, a pregnant woman’s blood sugar level is higher than it usually is and too little insulin is produced to stimulate adequate uptake of glucose from the bloodstream by cells. The level of glucose in the blood therefore remains high.
Around two to five percent of pregnant women in England and Wales have diabetes. Mostly, these women have is gestational diabetes, although some may also have type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
Diagnosis and treatment
Gestational diabetes can be diagnosed by routine blood sugar testing. The tests used to check for diabetes include fasting blood glucose, which measures the blood sugar around eight hours after the last meal; post prandial blood glucose, which measures blood sugar two hours after a meal and glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c), which helps determine blood glucose control over the previous three months.
Gestational diabetes can usually be controlled by managing the diet and taking regular exercise. However, some women may require medications such as insulin or metformin to bring their blood sugar level under control. It is important to detect and diagnose gestational diabetes as this condition can lead to birth complications such as premature birth, placental abruption, macrosomia and low blood sugar in the newborn.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc