Symptoms of Gestational Diabetes and Ways to Manage It

Gestational diabetes occurs in pregnant women who have had no history of diabetes prior to pregnancy. It probably happens when hormones that are released from the placenta to aid in the development of the baby block the mother's body from using or making insulin. Insulin is the hormone that converts sugar from food into energy that is useful to the body. The inability to process sugar leads to high blood sugar levels and thus gestational diabetes.

What Are the Gestational Diabetes Symptoms?

For a majority of women, gestational diabetes occurs later in pregnancy and does not exhibit any signs or symptoms. This is the reason why regular screening is necessary. However, if you experience the following symptoms, see a doctor immediately for tests:

  • Frequent fatigue
  • Excessive thirst and frequent urination
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Increased rate of infections, especially in the urinary tract
  • Weight loss
  • Blurred vision

A majority of women who contract gestational diabetes during their pregnancy deliver healthy babies and lead normal healthy lives. Complications can, however, arise if the gestational diabetes symptoms are not detected early enough and therefore not treated on time. The uncontrolled blood sugar can lead to health problems for both mother and child. 

Complications That May Affect Your Baby

The impact of unmanaged gestational diabetes on the baby can be the following:

  • Respiratory distress syndrome and preterm birth
  • Excessive birth weight because the baby's liver has to work overtime to break down insulin from the mother. This leads to fat deposits being formed.
  • Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar
  • Likelihood of type 2 diabetes in the child's later life
  • Fatality

Complications That May Affect You

Gestational diabetes can lead to:

  • Diabetes after birth
  • Preeclampsia
  • High blood pressure

When to Test for Gestational Diabetes

Your doctor is likely to evaluate gestational diabetes risk early in your pregnancy. If the risk is assessed to be average, your doctor will recommend screening during the second trimester of your pregnancy, probably in the 28th week of your pregnancy. If you exhibit certain symptoms early and your doctor concludes that you are at a high risk, the evaluation will be done quite early in your pregnancy. Some of the risk factors include:

  • A family history of diabetes
  • Being overweight/obese because of the pressure on the body's ability to utilize insulin in breaking down blood sugar
  • High blood pressure
  • Low levels of high-density lipoprotein, HDL or the good cholesterol
  • Early signs of insulin resistance, GDM, and prediabetes
  • High levels of triglycerides in blood
  • Being inactive or sedentary
  • Being African, Latina, Native American or Pacific Islander descents

How Is Gestational Diabetes Tested?

Initial Glucose Challenge Test

This test involves ingesting glucose syrup and a one-hour wait. After that, a blood sugar level test is conducted. If the result is between 130 to 140 milligrams/deciliter (mmol/L), or between 7.2 to 7.8 millimoles per liter (mmol/L), it is considered normal, although it may vary from lab to lab.

Levels higher than that indicate that you are at a higher risk of contracting gestational diabetes and this calls for a glucose tolerance test to determine if the condition exists.

Follow-Up Glucose Tolerance Testing

This test is a bit more involving than the first one. It calls for preceding food and beverages for a whole night and then taking a sweet solution with a higher glucose concentration than the first one. After that, your blood sugar levels will be taken every hour for the next three hours. The test is ruled positive for gestational diabetes if the glucose levels in two out of the three tests are higher than normal.

What If You're Diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes?

Once the doctor determines that the gestational diabetes symptoms you have been experiencing are positive for the condition, you will be put under close examination and frequent checkups. These will be more frequent during the last trimester. Your blood sugar will be monitored, and you may even have to monitor it yourself on a daily basis.

The doctor may recommend insulin if your body is struggling with controlling the blood sugar. If other complications arise, your doctor may need to conduct further tests to determine the health of the baby. The placenta and umbilical cord may also be assessed. This is done because gestational diabetes, if not controlled, can affect the amount of oxygen and nutrients that the baby receives from the mother and subsequently affect its health.

How Can Gestational Diabetes Be Treated?

Consistent monitoring and controlling of blood sugar is essential when a patient tests positive for gestational diabetes symptoms. This helps in ensuring that the baby remains healthy during the pregnancy and is not affected by the condition. Treatment steps include:

1. Monitoring Your Blood Sugar

This is to be done up to four or five times in a day, before and after meals. Although it may sound a bit much, it is imperative to keep measuring your blood sugar to make sure it is in check. Nowadays, testing your blood sugar is a simple procedure that involves drawing a drop of blood from your finger using a particular type of needle called a lancet. The blood on the strip is placed in a glucose meter which measures and displays the level of blood sugar.

When time comes to give birth, your healthcare team will be closely monitoring your blood sugar levels, including during labor. Even after delivery, your health care team will probably keep a close eye on you because you are more likely to contract type 2 diabetes later in life.

2. Healthy Diet

The best way to maneuver around this is to get a dietician who will help you in planning your meals and getting the quantity right so that you can manage to keep your blood sugar levels and overall body weight in check.

It is a delicate balance of maintaining a healthy growing weight to support your baby's development and also ensuring that you do not gain too much weight that will affect both you and your child. Maintaining a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains in the right proportion is the goal.

3. Exercise

Exercise is imperative before, during and after your pregnancy to manage gestational diabetes symptoms. Exercise works in two ways:

  • It causes your body to use up the sugar levels in your blood to produce energy, thus lowering your blood sugar.
  • It makes your cells use up insulin more effectively.

4. Medication

Insulin injections or oral medication can also be administered if the situation warrants it.