1 in 10 Moms-to-Be Get Pregnancy-Linked Diabetes
Obesity a major risk factor for condition that causes problems for both mother and baby, experts say
By Steven Reinberg
THURSDAY, June 19, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- As many as one in 10 pregnant women in the United States develop the pregnancy complication called gestational diabetes, a new government study estimates.
"Our results indicate that gestational diabetes prevalence is high in the U.S.," said lead researcher Carla DeSisto, an epidemiology research fellow at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Gestational diabetes develops in women who have never had diabetes before but who have high blood sugar during pregnancy. As with type 2 diabetes, obesity is a significant risk factor for gestational diabetes. The increased prevalence of gestational diabetes has closely paralleled the rise in obesity, according to background information in the study.
Gestational diabetes can have short- and long-term effects for both mother and baby.
Dr. Alessandro Acosta, a neonatologist at Miami Children's Hospital, noted that the condition can cause the baby to be abnormally large, which may result in damage to the baby's shoulders during birth. Many of these babies are so large they need to be delivered by cesarean section, he said.
The problems caused by gestational diabetes don't end at delivery. "The bad news is that down the road these women are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes," he said.
DeSisto added: "Women who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes have more than a seven-fold increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the five to 10 years after delivery. Children born to mothers with gestational diabetes are also more likely to develop pre-diabetes."
Although the exact causes of gestational diabetes aren't known, one explanation is that hormones from the placenta block the action of insulin in the mother's body, according to the American Diabetes Association. This makes it hard for the mother to use insulin, so she may need up to three times as much insulin to properly use the sugar in her body.
Obesity is another possibility, DeSisto said. "Other researchers have reported that gestational diabetes has been steadily increasing consistent with the rise of obesity," she said.
Obesity has also been linked to insulin resistance, which blunts the effect of insulin and allows blood sugar levels to rise, according to the American Diabetes Association.
"Preventing obesity is a key component of well woman care and diabetes prevention. Furthermore, maintaining a healthy weight throughout the reproductive years benefits women and improves the health of any future pregnancies," DeSisto said.
Acosta agrees that gestational diabetes has become more of a problem than it once was and the increases in obesity may be the reason. Moreover, women who develop the problem are less likely to exercise and eat a healthy diet, he said.
"You have to control your diet. You have to eat healthy. You have to have some level of physical activity, so frequent exercise is important," he said.