Why screening for gestational diabetes is important



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Chrysta Tsafkopoulos of
Burlington, Ont., was shocked to
learn that she’d failed the routine
test for gestational diabetes, with
blood sugar levels so high that her
doctor wasn’t even going to send her
back for the second test.

“I wasn’t overweight and I didn’t
think I was at risk for this,” says
Chrysta. “But the nurse at the
program I was referred to explained
that some women just don’t process
glucose the same way during
pregnancy.”

Women with gestational diabetes
(GD) have higher than normal
levels of sugar in their blood
during pregnancy. Dr. Douglas
Black, President of the Society of
Obstetricians and Gynecologists
of Canada, explains that this is a
problem because “this excess sugar
acts like a growth hormone.” Babies
of mothers with GD tend to grow
larger than usual (10–25 percent
will weigh more than 4,000 grams,
or 8 lbs, 13 oz), which can make the
birth more diffi cult and potentially
dangerous. The baby may also be
at risk of hypoglycemia (low blood
sugar) after birth.

Approximately 6.5 percent
of pregnant women in Canada
develop GD. Symptoms are similar
to those of other types of diabetes:
excessive thirst, frequent urination,
blurred vision and fatigue. Risk
factors include being overweight,
smoking, belonging to certain
ethnic groups (African-Canadian,
Aboriginal, Hispanic), and being
over 35, but many women with GD
have no known risk factors and
no symptoms. Testing is normally
done between 24 and 28 weeks and
usually in two parts.

Your doctor may refer you to a
specialist, to a diabetes program
and other community resources for
treatment advice. “We begin with
dietary changes. Most women can
control this by changing their diets,”
says Dr. Black. “They will do fi ngerpricks
to test their blood several
times a day. If the diet isn’t working,
they may need to be given insulin,
but that is less common.”

“I followed my diet to a T,” says
Chrysta. “They also did frequent
ultrasounds to make sure my baby
wasn’t growing too fast. I wasn’t
taking any chances.”

The test

At your lab appointment, you will drink a sugary beverage,
similar to orange pop. The entire glass must be drained within
five minutes. If you’re being screened first thing in the morning
or after fasting, the sweet concoction can sometimes cause an
upset tummy.

An hour later, you will have blood taken to evaluate your blood
sugar level. Yes, it takes an hour. You cannot leave during this
time, so bring something to keep you busy.

Results are available in a few days. Nearly 20 percent of
patients will have high blood sugar levels and be asked to return
for another test, this time with blood being taken once an hour
for three hours. Because of this high “false positive” rate, speak
with your healthcare provider about skipping the first test and
jumping right to the second. It could save some valuable time.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, February/March 2013.

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