What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is the development of diabetes mellitus during pregnancy. This is a blood sugar regulation disorder which did not pre-exist but first appeared in pregnancy.
Why can increased blood sugar levels appear in pregnancy?
- Pregnancy is associated with increased body insulin requirements. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas and transports glucose (sugar) into cells, where it is used as a fuel to generate energy.
- The increased insulin needs of a pregnant woman are the result of the production of hormones by the placenta that have a diabetic effect, i.e. they tend to increase blood sugar. The production of these hormones occurs as part of major physical and biochemical changes that ensure the foetus receives adequate nutrition and can properly develop.
- Despite hormonal changes occurring during pregnancy, not all women get gestational diabetes. Women who develop gestational diabetes are those who cannot produce the extra amount of insulin they need. The insulin produced by their body is not sufficient for the glucose to enter the cells, so it builds up in the blood and eventually appears as an increased level of blood sugar in blood tests.
Is gestational diabetes the same as other forms of diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a special condition and only applies to pregnant women who had no diabetes before pregnancy. If a woman had diabetes before she became pregnant, then we do not use the term "gestational diabetes". This is important because there are differences in treatment. In such cases, management should be started cautiously prior to pregnancy.