April 14, 2023

The importance of screening for gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes poses a significant risk to women of color, particularly those with preexisting conditions and a family history of diabetes.

Everyone wants to have a healthy pregnancy. Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping everyone — no matter their race or ethnicity — achieve their best health outcomes. Because certain racial and ethnic groups are at a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes, Kaiser Permanente is taking steps to build awareness of what can be done to reduce the risk.

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that can develop during pregnancy. This condition occurs when the body cannot produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar levels during pregnancy.

Every year, up to 10% of pregnancies in the United States are affected by gestational diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While it can affect anyone, research has shown that certain racial and ethnic groups are at a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes.

“If you're Native American, Hispanic, African American, or Asian American, you have a much higher chance of developing gestational diabetes along with other risk factors such as already having insulin resistance or high-blood sugars prior to being pregnant,” said Paola Lopez, RN, diabetes case manager, Endocrinology Department, Kaiser Permanente Panorama City Medical Center.

One of the biggest risks associated with gestational diabetes is the effect it can have on the baby. Lopez explains, "It puts the baby at higher risk for developing diabetes as a toddler, a teenager, or even an adult. And during the pregnancy, if the blood sugars are not under control, it puts the mother at risk for having to deliver via cesarean section or deliver early because the baby can gain too much weight."

About half of those who get gestational diabetes go on to develop type 2 diabetes within 10 years, according to the CDC. If you have prediabetes or are showing symptoms of having diabetes, Lopez recommends having a physical exam prior to becoming pregnant to learn how to reduce the risk of developing gestational diabetes. Symptoms of gestational diabetes include being very thirsty or having blurred vision.

Additionally, adopting healthy habits before and during pregnancy can help prevent gestational diabetes. Lopez recommends becoming more physically active, having a well-balanced diet, and checking your blood sugar if you have diabetes to make sure you're keeping it within range.

Early control of blood sugar is key for gestational diabetes. A Kaiser Permanente study published in 2022 found better outcomes for patients when they achieved glucose control early and maintained it.

Learn more about gestational diabetes screening.