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September 19, 2016

Pregnancy diabetes: symptoms and treatment

Definition of gestational diabetes 

Did you know that 3 to 20 percent of pregnant women will develop diabetes during their pregnancy? It’s a condition known as gestational diabetes.  


During pregnancy, the placenta not only provides oxygen, nutrients and protection to the developing baby; it also produces and releases hormones that impair the action of insulin in the body. In some women, this leads to a buildup of glucose (sugar) in the blood, resulting in higher blood glucose levels. This is referred to as gestational diabetes. It generally develops during the end of the second trimester or in the third trimester. In most cases, gestational diabetes disappears on its own after delivery.

What are the symptoms of gestational diabetes? 

Women with gestational diabetes usually do not experience any symptoms. In some cases, however, the following may be noted: 

Symptoms associated with gestational diabetes

  • Increase in urine volume and more frequent urination 
  • Dry mouth
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Headaches 
  • Intense thirst

If you experience symptoms of this nature, please see your doctor as soon as possible. 

Pregnancy diabetes: Which diagnosis?

Gestational diabetes is diagnosed with an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT). An OGTT involves doing three blood glucose tests. The first blood sample is to test the patient’s fasting blood glucose. The patient then drinks a very sweet liquid, after which blood is drawn a second time after 1 hour and a third time after 2 hours. All pregnant women are required to undergo this test between the 24th and 28th week of pregnancy, but sooner in the case of at-risk women. 

A few risk factors

  • Being 35 years old or over
  • Being overweight before pregnancy 
  • Having a history of gestational diabetes or having given birth to baby weighing over 4 kg 
  • Having a relative (father, mother, brother or sister) with type 2 diabetes 

Pregnancy diabetes: is it dangerous?

When properly managed, gestational diabetes does not cause complications for the mother or the child. It can, however, entail certain risks, particularly if it is not adequately controlled:

Risks for the baby at birth

  • Breathing problems
  • Hypoglycemia 
  • Jaundice (especially in preterm births) 
  • Low calcium in the blood 
  • Higher-than-average birth weight (more than 4 kg)

Risks for the mother

  • Caesarean section due to the baby’s weight 
  • Increased risk of urinary tract, vaginal or kidney infections
  • Hypertension and preeclampsia 
  • Excess production of amniotic fluid (increasing the risk of preterm delivery) 
  • Development of type 2 diabetes in the future 

Possible treatments for gestational diabetes 

The treatment for gestational diabetes has two components: 

  • a healthy diet 
  • a healthy lifestyle, including sleeping well, keeping your weight in a healthy range and exercising regularly (e.g. walking, biking, swimming) 

Diet and lifestyle changes are usually enough to manage gestational diabetes. It is highly recommended you meet with a nutritionist to establish a personalized eating plan, which should exclude sugary foods, as much as possible. 

Even with the above measures, some women will need insulin injections. Insulin is safe for the baby, and since gestational diabetes usually disappears after delivery, mothers can generally cease its use after the birth of their baby. Insulin therapy is usually effective at controlling blood glucose. Pharmacists are there to support pregnant women in the use of insulin in the best and safest way possible. They can also help them monitor their blood glucose, which must be carefully tracked using a special meter. 


Pharmacy services

If you have any questions about your health or that of your developing baby, speak with your family pharmacists. They can give you the advice and support you need and, if necessary, refer you to the appropriate resources. Just ask! 

If you have diabetes, it is extremely important to properly control your blood glucose. If you are having difficulty reaching the targets set by your healthcare professional or if you experience bouts of hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia, speak with your family pharmacists. They can give you advice and recommend changes to your drug therapy, if need be.

Many Uniprix-affiliated pharmacies offer a blood glucose monitoring service and private consultations on diabetes management. Ask about these services. 

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