Gestational Diabetes Underdiagnosed
Panel Calls for Changes That Could Triple Cases of Gestational Diabetes
Feb. 26, 2010 -- In response to research confirming that even small
elevations in blood sugar during pregnancy can lead to sick
babies, an international panel of experts is recommending sweeping changes in
how gestational diabetes is diagnosed.
If adopted, the changes would mean that in the future two or three times as
many pregnant women would be diagnosed and treated for gestational
About 5% of pregnant women in the United States receive a diagnosis of
But Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine Professor of
Metabolism and Nutrition Boyd Metzger, MD, says closer to 15% of pregnant women
and their babies would benefit from treatment.
“Current recommendations for the diagnosis of gestational diabetes are
designed to identify women at risk for developing diabetes after pregnancy,”
Metzger tells WebMD. “But we now know that many low-risk women with blood sugar
levels considered normal in the past are at risk for having overweight babies.”
High-birth-weight babies have an increased risk for obesity and diabetes
later in life, and women carrying large babies are at increased risk for
premature delivery and C-section delivery.
Modest Increases in Blood Sugar Are Risky
Findings from a seven-year, international study led by Metzger showed that
even modest increases in blood sugar during pregnancy raise the risk for
complications to mothers and their babies.
More than 23,000 women who took part in the trial were followed for nearly a
decade. The study was published in May 2008.
Several months later, diabetes experts from across the globe met to consider
the clinical implications of the findings and this meeting led to the new
Under the proposed guidelines, a fasting blood sugar of 92 or
higher, a one-hour glucose tolerance test reading of 180 or higher, or a
two-hour glucose tolerance test of 153 or higher would meet the criteria for
“Any one of these would be enough to make the diagnosis,” Metzger says.
He says that at these levels, the risk of having an overweight baby
or developing pregnancy-related high blood
pressure doubles and the risk for early delivery increases by 40%.
The consensus panel recommendations appear in the March issue of the
American Diabetes Association (ADA) journal Diabetes Care.
But it is not clear if the ADA or the American College of Obstetricians and
Gynecologists (ACOG) will endorse the proposed guidelines.
An ACOG spokesperson tells WebMD the group does not comment on
recommendations by other organizations.
Carol J. Homko, PhD, of the ADA, says the recommendations may overwhelm
already struggling obstetrics practices.
Homko is an associate professor of medicine with a joint appointment in
obstetrics and gynecology at Temple University in Philadelphia. She also served
on the ADA’s Gestational Diabetes Mellitus workgroup.
“I worry that these practices may not have the resources to suddenly double
or triple their gestational diabetes caseload,” she says.