What can we learn from gestational diabetes?

by Mark Benson on September 14, 2012

What can we learn from gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes or “pregnancy diabetes” is a phenomenon which affects anywhere between 2% and 10% of worldwide pregnancies depending upon the specific populations studied. There is some debate as to whether it is a natural phenomenon or indeed it is the beginning of either type II diabetes or in more rare cases type I diabetes. What can we learn from gestational diabetes that may assist with developing treatments and cures for type I diabetes and type II diabetes?

What is the gestational diabetes?

In simple terms this is a condition which is fairly common in pregnant ladies whereby the medical side effect of pregnancy impacts the amount of insulin created by insulin receptors which affects the blood glucose level of sufferers during pregnancy. It is not known exactly why this particular condition is so commonplace among pregnant women and there is some confusion and debate as to whether it is naturally occurring or brought on by other factors.

The symptoms of pregnancy diabetes are very easy to test for and indeed treatment is fairly straightforward with the vast majority of people only requiring diet modifications and moderate exercise although some will require drugs during pregnancy to combat the condition. For many people the condition will literally disappear when the pregnancy is ended and life will return to normal although there may be long-term implications for the development of more traditional forms of diabetes.


There are a number of specific complications connected to pregnancy diabetes and one of the more visible is the fact that sufferers could become “large” for their gestational age which can in some cases lead to more complications with actual child birth. However, the fact that doctors will likely be aware of the underlying pregnancy diabetes condition means that precautions can be taken and specific treatments put in place before the actual birth.

One more common side-effect to gestational diabetes is the fact that many babies will be born underweight compared to the average baby size. There are some experts who believe that an underweight baby is more prone to premature death and survival rates are impacted especially in the very early days. This is not the same for every sufferer of pregnancy diabetes but it is a factor which needs to be taken into account and one which sufferer should be aware.

Are you susceptible to pregnancy diabetes?

There are a number of risk factors which are associated with the development of pregnancy diabetes and while many of these are buried deep in our family history others may be more relevant to our lifestyle. We will now take a look at some of the more common risk factors which have been identified over the years as potentially assisting the development of pregnancy diabetes.

Previous diagnosis

Those who have suffered previously from gestational diabetes are more likely to suffer from the condition if they are pregnant in the future. This also goes for those who have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes conditions, impaired glucose tolerance or impaired fasting glycaemia.

Family history

Researchers have found a specific link between close relatives who have suffered type II diabetes themselves and pregnancy diabetes for their offspring. This is one of those factors which is uncontrollable, unfortunate and can be alarming for some people but it is treatable and tests can be done during the early days of pregnancy to confirm the potential risk. In many ways it is better to be forearmed than forewarned and thankfully there have been great strides in medical treatments over the years.

Maternal age

In this day and age we see more and more ladies giving birth well into their 40s and it is sensible to be aware of the increased risk of pregnancy diabetes for those who have children over the age of 35. The risks increase the older the individual is although this is just one of many potential complications in older pregnancies. Investigations can be done prior to any pregnancy to try and determine the possible risk of developing gestational diabetes which may well assist potential sufferers.

Ethnic background

A study recently showed that specific ethnic backgrounds are more susceptible to developing more traditional type II diabetes and type I diabetes and this seems to be the case with regards to pregnancy diabetes. African-Americans, Afro-Caribbean, Native Americans, Hispanics, Pacific Islanders and those originating from South Asia also appear to be more susceptible to pregnancy diabetes. Quite why this is remains a bit of a mystery but no doubt research in the future will cast more light on this matter.


As well as there being a link between obesity and type II diabetes there seems to be a link between obesity and pregnancy diabetes. It is therefore advisable to take specific advice from your doctor if you’re looking to become pregnant so that you are fully aware of the potential risks and can potentially make changes to your lifestyle prior to pregnancy. There are some factors which are within our control and some factors which are out with our control and again it is sensible to beware of these factors.


There is some debate as to whether smoking significantly increases your risk of pregnancy diabetes with some research suggesting the risk actually doubles in smokers while others are not so certain. If you’re able to reduce the potential impact of your lifestyle on your chances of developing pregnancy diabetes then this should assist you in the short, medium and longer term.

Why is pregnancy diabetes still a mystery?

While it seems that pregnancy can and does impact upon insulin receptors within the body it is unclear why the condition is prevalent during pregnancy and for the vast majority of people will disappear after the birth. If scientists are able to investigate pregnancy diabetes further then potentially we could come up with better treatments and even potential cures for the future.

There is no doubt that great progress has been made in the treatment and the understanding of diabetes, pregnancy diabetes, type I diabetes and type II diabetes, many elements of the condition still remain a mystery. There are still many areas to unlock, many keys to turn and many other medical conditions which have a very strong link to the condition. Over time there is no doubt that researchers will be able to gather more information and hopefully this will lead to an improvement in treatments and hopefully a reduction in diabetes development rates.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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