Gestational Diabetes Causes, Risks, Symptoms and Complications

Updated on & Medically Reviewed by Dr Lalitha
Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes refers to a type of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy, in women who did not have diabetes before becoming pregnant. It typically emerges around the middle of the pregnancy between 24 and 28 weeks and generally resolves after giving birth.

What Causes Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes develops when the body struggles to produce insulin during pregnancy to effectively regulate blood sugar levels. Several key factors can contribute to this:

1. Insulin Resistance:

During pregnancy hormones like placenta lactogen and cortisol are produced, which can reduce the responsiveness of cells to insulin. Consequently more insulin is required by the body to maintain blood sugar control.

2. Inadequate Insulin Production:

Although the pancreas increases its insulin production in response there are instances where it may not meet the demand caused by pregnancy and insulin resistance.

3. Influences:

If you have a family history of type 2 diabetes or obesity you are at a risk of developing gestational diabetes. However, having these factors alone does not guarantee its occurrence.

4. Other Considerations:

Certain pre existing conditions such as syndrome (PCOS) or being overweight/obese prior, to pregnancy can also elevate your risk.

[ Also Read: How to Lose Weight with PCOS? ]

Diagnostic Criteria

Gestational diabetes diagnosis is determined through a 75 gram Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT) that measures blood sugar levels at time intervals:

  • Fasting - A level of 92 mg/dL (5.1 mmol/L) or higher
  • 1 hour, after glucose intake - A level of 180 mg/dL (10.0 mmol/L) or higher
  • 2 hours after glucose intake - A level of 153 mg/dL (8.5 mmol/L) or higher OR
  • Meeting or exceeding any two of the above values

Risk Factors

While several factors can increase the risk of developing gestational diabetes, it's important to note that not everyone with these factors will develop it and some women without these risk factors can still be affected.

Here are some main risk factors to consider:

  • Age - The risk increases with age over the age of 25.
  • Weight - Being overweight or obese before pregnancy significantly raises the risk.
  • Family History - Having a relative with type 2 diabetes increases your susceptibility.
  • Past History - If you had gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy you're more likely to experience it again.
  • Ethnicity - Certain ethnic groups, such, as African American, American and Pacific Islander populations have a higher likelihood.
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) - This condition can impact insulin resistance & elevate the risk.

Lifestyle Factors that can Contribute to Increased Risk of Gestational Diabetes:

  • Lack of Activity: Engaging in exercise helps the body use insulin more effectively.
  • Diet: Consuming sugary drinks and processed foods can contribute to the development of insulin resistance.
  • Smoking: Smoking damages blood vessels. Can worsen insulin resistance.

Additionally certain medical conditions may increase the risk:

  • High blood pressure before pregnancy.
  • Prediabetes, which refers to blood sugar control.
  • Acanthosis nigricans, characterized by darkening and thickening of the skin.

It is important to discuss risk factors with your doctor and determine whether you should undergo screening for diabetes during pregnancy even if you don't have any known risk factors.


It's essential to note that gestational diabetes often does not exhibit symptoms underscoring the importance of screening during pregnancy. However in some cases where blood sugar levels become high, certain symptoms may manifest:

  • Increased Thirst and Frequent Urination: The body attempts to eliminate sugar through urine leading to heightened thirst and frequent urination.

[ Read: All About Glycosuria

  • Excessive Hunger: When your body doesn't get glucose, for energy you might find yourself feeling hungrier than usual.
  • Fatigue: High levels of sugar in your blood can disrupt the production of energy leading to feelings of tiredness and fatigue.
  • Blurred Vision: Elevated blood sugar levels might temporarily affect the lens of your eye causing your vision to become blurry.
  • Frequent Infections: Increased blood sugar can weaken your system making you more vulnerable to infections, yeast infections.
  • Slow Healing Wounds: High blood sugar can hinder circulation and the healing process of wounds.
  • Nausea and Vomiting: Although less common some women with diabetes may experience episodes of nausea and vomiting.

It's important to remember that these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions also. Therefore they should not be used for diagnosis. However if you experience any of these concerns it is crucial to consult with your doctor for an evaluation and blood sugar testing.

Keep in mind that even if you don't have any symptoms, regular screening during pregnancy is essential, for identification and management of gestational diabetes. This helps promote the well being of both you and your baby.

Potential Issues for Mother & Baby

When gestational diabetes is not properly managed it can create risks, for both the mother and the baby. Although this condition typically resolves after childbirth it's important to address its complications.

Complications for the Mother:

  • High Blood Pressure (Preeclampsia): This serious condition involves blood pressure, protein in the urine and sometimes swelling. It can increase the risk of stroke, heart attack and other complications.
  • Increased Vulnerability to Infections: High blood sugar levels can weaken the system making mothers more prone to infections like tract infections (UTIs) and yeast infections.
  • Potential Difficulties During Birth: If a baby grows larger than average due to blood sugar levels it may require a section (C section) delivery.

Complications for the Baby:

  • Macrosomia: This refers to having a than average baby, which can lead to delivery complications such as shoulder dystocia (when the babys shoulder gets stuck) and injuries to both mother and baby.
  • Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia) after Birth: Babies born to mothers, with diabetes may experience blood sugar levels shortly after birth as their bodies adjust from no longer receiving as much sugar.
  • Babies born to mothers, with diabetes may face a chance of experiencing Respiratory Distress Syndrome, a condition where their lungs are not fully developed. Moreover these babies could also be at an increased risk of developing obesity and type 2 diabetes in life due to exposure to blood sugar levels while in the womb.

To mitigate these risks it is crucial to diagnose diabetes and manage it effectively. This can be achieved by following a diet engaging in exercise and consistently monitoring blood sugar levels. Additionally maintaining communication with healthcare providers is vital, for ensuring the well being of both the mother and baby.

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Disclaimer: The information provided on this page is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any questions or concerns about your health, please talk to a healthcare professional.

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