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Could Gestational Diabetes Be More Common than We Realized?

Women taking precautions against gestational diabetes riskThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released a new report that shows the current prevalence of gestational diabetes could be as high as 9.2% in the U.S. Hopefully more women have been picking up yogurt when they go to the grocery store.

According to Carla DeSisto, the MPH from the CDC, they can’t be 100 percent sure of the exact prevalence for this type of diabetes. This latest report was based on information collected from birth certificates and the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) questionnaire. The data suggests that anywhere from 1 to 14 percent of the pregnant population could develop gestational diabetes each year.

(The reported prevalence can change based on the type of diagnostic test applied and the given population at the time.)

Analyzing the Results from the Prams Questionnaire

The CDC conducted this clinical study in order to compare the prevalence of gestational diabetes based on the PRAMS questionnaires results from 2007-2008 and 2009-2010.

The authors of the study note that PRAMS is “an ongoing, state-based, population-based surveillance system that collects information about maternal behaviors before, during, and after pregnancies that result in live births.”

Pregnant women who’ve developed gestational diabetes can be at risk for:

  • Neonatal hypoglycemia
  • Infant macrosomia
  • Delivery that’ll require a cesarean procedure

Studies have also shown that these women are 7 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later on in life. Of course, these risks are not only imparted on the mothers. Infants can develop an impaired glucose tolerance or other metabolic issues.

You or a loved one could be at risk for this form of diabetes if any of the following risk factors apply:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having a family history of diabetes
  • Getting pregnant at a more advanced age

What Are these Numbers Really Telling Us?

The research team that composed this report theorizes that the rate of gestational diabetes is probably understated, since they relied heavily on data from birth certificates. Only 33 states were using birth certificates that separated gestational diabetes from prepregnancy diabetes in 2010.

At the same time, the numbers coming from the questionnaires are likely overestimated. Further research has shown that more than 60 percent of the correspondents (in the given study size) who reported have diabetes in the PRAMS didn’t show a positive diagnosis on their prenatal or hospital medical records.

(The PRAMS questionnaire is updated every few years based on accumulated evidence.)

For this study, a confirmed case of gestational diabetes had to be supported by either the questionnaire or the birth certificate, plus the patient’s medical history couldn’t show prepregnancy diabetes.

“[W]omen were asked to select from a list any problems they had during their most recent pregnancy, including ‘high blood sugar (diabetes) that started during this pregnancy,’ ” the research team reports. They were also asked if they’d been told by their doctor that they were exhibiting diabetic symptoms during their pregnancies.

“Our data suggests that the prevalence of GDM (gestational diabetes mellitus) in 2010 was between 4.6% (as reported on the birth certificate only) and 9.2% (as reported on either the birth certificate or PRAMS questionnaire). Although there was high agreement (94.1%) between the 2 sources, more cases of GDM are identified through the PRAMS questionnaire than from the birth certificate,” noted the researchers.

“Therefore, given the current limitations of both the birth certificate and PRAMS, true GDM prevalence is likely between the estimates obtained from the 2 sources.”

Weighing the Long-Term Effects of Gestational Diabetes

The data doesn’t show a significant difference in the prevalence of GDM from 2007-2008 to 2009-2010:

  • Prevalence for 2007-2008 period was 8.1%
  • Prevalence for 2009-2010 period was 8.5%

Either way you want to look at this report, the truth is that this medical condition still affects an alarming number of expectant mothers and families (just about 1 in every 20 pregnancies). Anyone who’s read some of our other posts on diabetes knows that the rate of type 2 diabetes is already at pandemic levels. This data suggests that more and more children and mothers are going to be at risk for this disease.

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