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Treat Gestational Diabetes for Baby's Sake

Study Shows Treatment of Diabetes in Pregnant Women Cuts Health Risks for Infants
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 30, 2009 -- Treating pregnant women who have even mild gestational diabetes helps reduce the risk of complications in infants and the women's own risk of blood pressure problems, according to a new study.

While gestational diabetes -- defined as having glucose intolerance that first shows up during a pregnancy -- has long been known to increase the risk of the woman getting diabetes later in life, the risk of ill effects on the pregnancy has not been as clear. Those women whose blood sugar levels are very elevated appear to be at risk of complications, but how the milder form of gestational diabetes affects the pregnancy has not been known exactly, the researchers say.

The new study finding ''provides the evidence to endorse screening and treating women even with mild gestational diabetes," says Catherine Spong, MD, chief of the pregnancy and perinatology branch of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health, and a co-author of the study. It is published in the New EnglandJournal of Medicine.

Up to 14% of U.S. pregnancies are affected by gestational diabetes, according to the researchers.

In the study, Spong and colleagues, with lead investigator Mark Landon of The Ohio State University Medical Center, Columbus, randomly assigned 485 pregnant women with mild gestational diabetes to the treatment group and 473 to the comparison group. The women were cared for at 15 different medical centers.

To qualify for the study, women were in the 24th to 31st week of pregnancy and had a diagnosis of mild gestational diabetes. For the study, researchers defined mild gestational diabetes as having a fasting glucose level of less than 95 milligrams per deciliter and having at least two of three timed glucose measurements taken one hour, two hours, and three hours after drinking a sugary beverage that exceeded established thresholds.

Gestational diabetes is believed to occur in some women after increased levels of some hormones that rise during pregnancy hamper the ability of insulin to manage blood sugar. When blood sugar levels rise too much, it can adversely affect the baby, causing it to grow too big, among other potential problems. 

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