Health Information

Gestational Diabetes

What is gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is a condition in which the glucose level is elevated and other diabetic symptoms appear during pregnancy in a woman who has not previously been diagnosed with diabetes. All diabetic symptoms disappear following delivery.

Unlike type 1 diabetes, gestational diabetes is not caused by a lack of insulin, but by blocking effects of other hormones on the insulin that is produced, a condition referred to as insulin resistance.

Approximately 3 percent to 8 percent of all pregnant women in the United States are diagnosed with gestational diabetes.

What causes gestational diabetes?

Although the cause of gestational diabetes is not known, there are some theories as to why the condition occurs.

The placenta supplies a growing fetus with nutrients and water, as well as produces a variety of hormones to maintain the pregnancy. Some of these hormones (estrogen, cortisol, and human placental lactogen) can have a blocking effect on insulin. This is called contra-insulin effect, which usually begins about 20 to 24 weeks into the pregnancy.

As the placenta grows, more of these hormones are produced, and insulin resistance becomes greater. Normally, the pancreas is able to make additional insulin to overcome insulin resistance, but when the production of insulin is not enough to overcome the effect of the placental hormones, gestational diabetes results.

Treatment for gestational diabetes:

Specific treatment for gestational diabetes will be determined by your physician based on:
  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the disease
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the disease
  • your opinion or preference

Treatment for gestational diabetes focuses on keeping blood glucose levels in the normal range. Treatment may include:
  • special diet
  • exercise
  • daily blood glucose monitoring
  • insulin injections