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What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that happens during pregnancy. Unlike type 1 diabetes, gestational diabetes is not caused by having too little insulin. Instead a hormone made by your placenta keeps your body from using the insulin as it should. This is called insulin resistance. Blood sugar (glucose) then builds up in your blood instead of being absorbed by the cells in your body.
The symptoms of gestational diabetes often go away after delivery. But sometimes they don't. Or you may have a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes later.
What causes gestational diabetes?
Healthcare providers don't know what causes gestational diabetes. But they do know what happens.
The placenta gives your growing baby nutrients and water. The placenta also makes several hormones to keep the pregnancy healthy. These hormones include:
- Human placental lactogen
These hormones can affect how your body uses insulin (contra-insulin effect). This often begins about 20 to 24 weeks into your pregnancy and could lead to gestational diabetes.
During pregnancy, more fat is stored in your body, you take in more calories, and you may get less exercise. All of these things can make your blood sugar (glucose) levels higher than normal and possibly lead to gestational diabetes.
As the placenta grows, it makes more of the hormones. The risk for insulin resistance becomes greater. Normally your pancreas is able to make more insulin to overcome insulin resistance. But if it can't make enough to overcome the effects of the placenta’s hormones, you can develop gestational diabetes.
Who is at risk for gestational diabetes?
Any woman can develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy. But you may be more likely to get it if you:
- Are overweight or obese
- Have a family history of diabetes
- Are older than 25
- Are African American, American Indian, Asian American, Hispanic or Latino, or Pacific Islander
- Have pre-diabetes (impaired glucose tolerance)
- Have high blood pressure