Women's Health

What are the warning signs of gestational diabetes?

young pregnant woman in  pain

Pregnant women have heard tales – or experienced it themselves – of the “orange drink” they have to take around 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy. It’s a story that’s passed from woman to woman about the overly sweet, syrupy taste of the drink and having to sit in the doctor’s office for blood tests.

But this important screening is worth the inconvenience. It detects and diagnoses gestational diabetes in pregnant women. Gestational diabetes affects nearly 10 percent of pregnant women, according to the American Diabetes Association.

Gestational diabetes, left untreated and unmanaged, can pose serious health risks to your baby, including:

  • Excessive birth weight
  • Preterm birth and respiratory distress syndrome
  • Low blood sugar at birth
  • Increased risk of type 2 diabetes later in life

“Fortunately, gestational diabetes is easy to diagnose and manage,” says Barbara E. Simpson, M.D., a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist. “The fasting blood sugar test can make sure mom and baby stay healthy and happy.”

Signs and symptoms of gestational diabetes

Most pregnant women don’t experience signs or symptoms of gestational diabetes. In fact, the only way to know is with a blood sugar test, typically given around 24 to 28 weeks gestation.

A few women may notice subtle signs and symptoms of gestational diabetes, including:

  • Increased thirst. Drinking more than normal and feeling like you’re always thirsty may be a sign of gestational diabetes.
  • Fatigue. Pregnant women are tired, after all it’s a lot of work to grow and support a baby! However, gestational diabetes can make you feel even more tired than normal.
  • Dry mouth. A parched mouth – despite drinking a lot – can be another sign of gestational diabetes.

Gestational diabetes risk factors

More important than looking for the signs and symptoms of gestational diabetes is knowing if you’re at risk. Certain women may be more likely to develop the condition, including:

  • Women older than 25 years old
  • Family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Personal history of prediabetes
  • Gestational diabetes in previous pregnancies
  • Overweight or obese
  • Non-white race

Preventing gestational diabetes

You can’t completely prevent gestational diabetes, but there are certain things you can do to lower your risk, including:

  • Eat healthy
  • Stay active
  • Lose excessive weight before pregnancy

Diagnosing and treating gestational diabetes

Your doctor will ask you to schedule a glucose challenge test around 24 or 28 weeks of pregnancy. During your appointment, you’ll drink a glucose solution and be asked to wait one hour in the office. After one hour, you will have a blood sugar test. Your doctor will let you know if results are abnormal and if another test is needed.

The follow-up test, a glucose tolerance test, is also given in your doctor’s office. You’ll need to fast overnight. Then, arriving in your doctor’s office you will have your blood drawn. After the first blood test, you will drink a glucose solution. Your blood will then be checked once an hour over three hours. A gestational diabetes diagnosis is given if two of the three blood draws have higher than normal blood sugar levels.

Your health care provider will discuss a treatment plan that’s right for you if you do have gestational diabetes. That may include:

  • More frequent doctor appointments to check your blood sugar levels
  • Healthy eating
  • Limiting refined sugar and carbohydrates
  • Monitoring blood sugar at home

If you are having a hard time managing your gestational diabetes, you may need insulin. Your doctor will help decide what’s right for you.

“Gestational diabetes usually goes away on its own after delivery,” Dr. Simpson explains. “You may need your blood sugar to continue to be monitored after delivery. That repeat glucose testing will be done at your six-week postpartum visit to make sure that the gestational diabetes has resolved. Another reason the postpartum visit is so important!”

If you have questions about gestational diabetes or are concerned about your risk, talk to your provider today. Find a doctor near you.

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