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Health & Pregnancy

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Gestational Diabetes Underdiagnosed

Panel Calls for Changes That Could Triple Cases of Gestational Diabetes
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

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 diabetes.

About 5% of pregnant women in the United States receive a diagnosis of gestational diabetes.

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 recommendations.

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 gestational diabetes.

“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%.

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