Diabetes Doubles in Pregnancy

Among the pregnant women researched in a recent study on diabetes, 2,784 had either type 1 or type 2 diabetes before getting pregnant.

Diabetes is on the rise among pregnant women, posing the risk of serious health problems for mothers-to-be and their unborn children, according to one of the first and largest studies of the health condition.

The rate of type 1 or type 2 diabetes among expectant mothers more than doubled between 1999 and 2005, according to research of more than 175,000 women in California. Gestational diabetes can be a dangerous complication during pregnancy, endangering the mother and also raising the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth or birth defects. It also can lead to bigger babies and to children who are at risk of developing diabetes and obesity later in life.

In the study, lead author, Jean M. Lawrence, research scientist at Kaiser Permanente used medical records to determine the diabetes status of 175,249 southern California women between ages 13 and 58 who gave birth between 1999 and 2005. Among the women, 2,784 had either type 1 or type 2 diabetes before getting pregnant and 15,121 developed gestational diabetes, which occurs during pregnancy but usually resolves after birth.

In 1999, 10 percent of all the diabetes cases consisted of pre-existing type 1 or type 2 diabetes, with gestational diabetes accounting for the rest. By 2005, the pre-existing diabetes cases had more than doubled, accounting for 21 percent of the total diabetes cases.

The rise in diabetes in pregnant women is a problem in large part because it’s a nationwide trend occurring hand-in-hand with obesity, which also carries other risk factors for birth complications. Obese women often develop high blood pressure, which can lead to pregnancy complications.

The researchers partially attributed the rise in diabetes frequency to the rising rates of obesity among younger and younger women. Pre-existing diabetes cases increased for all age groups, but the biggest jump was in teens, where rates of the disease rose five-fold. For women between 20 and 39 years of age, rates of diabetes doubled. In women 40 and older, diabetes cases rose 40 percent.

Those who already have type 2 diabetes should ensure their disease is kept in check by consuming a healthy diet and exercising, Lawrence recommended. Type 1 diabetes can’t be prevented, but it can be managed with diet, exercise and medications, such as insulin shots.

Women who are overweight or obese should see a doctor before becoming pregnant to make sure they don’t have diabetes, Lawrence said. They should also work to shed a few pounds before becoming pregnant to reduce the risks to their babies. In general, obese women should not gain any weight during their pregnancy, or at least keep it to less than 10 pounds, to help keep their diabetes in check. However, women attempting to limit their weight gain during pregnancy should only do under strict medical supervision to ensure they are getting adequate nutrition for themselves and the developing fetus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers answers to frequently asked questions regarding diabetes risk in pregnancy and provides a slew of related links in prevention, assessment, and treatment.