Diabetes Screening Urged for All Pregnant Women

Diabetes testing for all expectant mothers recommended by health care experts

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) During pregnancy, women who have never had diabetes can develop high blood sugar, which can affect mother and child. With cases of gestational diabetes rising, women are being urged to get tested.

The American Diabetes Association estimates that gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) affects 18 percent of pregnancies. Other studies put that number at 6 to 8 percent. The condition not only can harm the mother’s health, but it can also increase health risks for the baby.

Because gestational diabetes can be accurately detected once women hit the 24th week of pregnancy, the US Preventive Services Task Force has released a new recommendation calling for all expectant mothers to be screened at this point. With early detection and treatment, potential health problems may be avoided or minimized.

"Attend all prenatal appointments."

The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) is composed of primary care providers such as internists, pediatricians, family physicians, gynecologists/obstetricians, nurses and health behavior specialists. This independent panel of medical experts commissioned a systematic review of research studies related to the benefits and harms of screening for diabetes before and after 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Based on their findings, the USPSTF determined that screening for and treating gestational diabetes after six months of pregnancy may improve the health of both mother and infant. The panel did not find sufficient evidence, however, to recommend testing and treating earlier than six months.

With gestational diabetes, hormones from the placenta may block the action of insulin in the mother. Insulin helps cells use blood sugar as energy, but without enough insulin, blood sugar (glucose) builds up in the body .

The high levels of glucose may pass on to the baby, triggering the infant’s pancreas to produce extra insulin. The elevated blood sugar levels can cause the baby to be overweight and face health risks, such as breathing problems.

Called macrosomia or big baby syndrome, an excessive birth weight can make delivery difficult and possibly damage a baby’s shoulders during birth, according to the American Diabetes Association.

With the glucose gone from the mother after birth, some babies develop hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels). A baby from a mother with gestational diabetes is also more likely to get type 2 diabetes as he or she grows.

A mother with gestational diabetes may face health complications as well, including an increased risk for preeclampsia. With this condition, blood pressure spikes and excessive protein leaks into the urine. Left untreated, preeclampsia leads to eclampsia, which can cause convulsions, coma or even death.

Although gestational diabetes usually goes away after pregnancy, these mothers face a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who never develop the condition.

Gestational diabetes is easily diagnosed with an oral glucose tolerance test. Mothers can treat the condition with diet and exercise and by taking insulin, if needed.

Women may lower the chances of getting gestational diabetes by maintaining a healthy weight through physical activity and eating right.

The US Preventive Services Task Force released this recommendation statement on January 14.

Review Date: 
January 14, 2014
Last Updated:
January 14, 2014