You “failed” your glucose test, and you’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes. What’s next, and what does it mean for your heart?
If you’ve ever been pregnant or even known someone who was, you’re probably familiar with the dreaded glucose test. During this test, usually done between weeks 24 and 28 of pregnancy, you drink a sugary, syrupy liquid and then your blood glucose level is checked after one hour.
If your blood glucose is high during this glucose challenge test, your medical provider may recommend you also undergo a glucose tolerance test to confirm a diagnosis of gestational diabetes.
Why is this important? These tests are important because gestational diabetes can have adverse effects on both you and your baby. And the effects on your health, including your heart health, can last long after pregnancy.
What Is Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. In the United States, up to 10 percent of pregnant women are diagnosed with the condition.
Researchers aren’t entirely certain what causes this form of diabetes, but it’s believed that hormonal fluctuations related to pregnancy can sometimes impact the way the body produces insulin. When a woman has gestational diabetes, her body isn’t producing enough insulin, which is used by the body to turn sugar into energy.
Without enough insulin, blood sugar is trapped within the blood, causing what’s known as hyperglycemia. This usually doesn’t cause many symptoms, but can cause increased thirst and increased urination.
Can You Have a Healthy Pregnancy With Gestational Diabetes?
Yes! In most cases, women can keep themselves and their babies healthy during pregnancy by carefully following their providers’ guidance.
If you’re diagnosed with gestational diabetes, your provider will recommend a strategy designed to keep your blood sugar in the normal range. This is important because excess blood sugar can damage blood vessels and the nerves around your heart.
In most cases, this plan starts with lifestyle changes, including increased physical activity and an improved diet. You may also be asked to check your blood sugar using an at-home test kit each day. If your blood sugar continues to be high despite lifestyle changes, you may need to inject insulin to help your body process glucose.
How Does Gestational Diabetes Affect the Heart?
Having gestational diabetes can have an impact on the health of both the mother and the baby. When a woman has gestational diabetes, her baby has an increased risk of a large birth weight, a premature birth, low blood sugar, and developing Type 2 diabetes later in life.
Having gestational diabetes also puts the woman’s health at risk. Those who have this pregnancy-related form of diabetes are at an increased risk of developing high blood pressure during pregnancy. High blood pressure, in turn, puts increased pressure on the walls of your blood vessels and negatively impacts your heart.
Women who have gestational diabetes are at a significantly increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes after pregnancy. In fact, as many as 50% of women with gestational diabetes eventually develop Type 2 diabetes.
Having gestational diabetes may also have other effects on the heart. A 2017 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that gestational diabetes may be tied to an increased risk of both heart attack and stroke later in life. The risk of heart disease is also increased.
To protect your heart, take steps to prevent gestational diabetes by getting to your best health prior to pregnancy. Moving your body regularly during pregnancy and eating a healthy diet are also important steps.
If you’re diagnosed with gestational diabetes, carefully follow your provider’s guidance about keeping your blood sugar level normal. After pregnancy, make sure your team of doctors is aware you had gestational diabetes and keep a careful eye on your overall health and your heart health.