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Women With Gestational Diabetes Underestimating Type 2 Risk

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Women With Gestational Diabetes Underestimating Type 2 Risk

Gestational diabetes is a real and growing problem. According to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), it affects one in six pregnancies.

What is gestational diabetes?

It’s a form of diabetes that affects a pregnant woman who did not have diabetes before being pregnant (some women can have it during two or more pregnancies). A test for gestational diabetes is normally given in the middle of pregnancy (24 and 28 weeks), when it normally arises.

Why is gestational diabetes serious?

Gestational diabetes goes away after pregnancy, but according to the IDF, women who have experienced it are at a higher risk of later developing type 2 diabetes (T2DM). Also, their children are predisposed to a higher risk of becoming overweight or obese and thus developing type 2 diabetes themselves.

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For these reasons, a new study from researchers at the University of South Australia is of importance to both mothers and healthcare providers. Between March and September 2018, the researchers, who partnered with a colleague at University College Dublin, used Facebook and parenting websites and forums, along with e-mail and mailings, to solicit information from Australian women who had had gestational diabetes. Because all women in Australia who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes are automatically enrolled in a national Gestational Diabetes Register (unless they opt out), the women the researchers reached out to were a diverse group, and the researchers used Australian postal code data to estimate socioeconomic status.

Mothers with gestational diabetes underestimating type 2 risk

In all, the researchers queried 429 Australian women, median age 36, about their experiences with gestational diabetes. The survey had 28 questions that asked the women about such matters as height and weight, demographic status, diet strategies and weight loss after pregnancy, and perception of diabetes risk.

Six women reported being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes after their pregnancies, while another 43 were told they had prediabetes or impaired glucose tolerance (another term for prediabetes), although 95 women (nearly a quarter of the respondents) said they had not been tested for diabetes after having had gestational diabetes and 11 women said they had not seen a healthcare professional at all. A large percentage of the women were classified as either overweight (115) or obese (207) and nearly all of these women recognized they should lose weight. However, only about a third of these women thought they were at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes, while 5% believed they were at no risk at all.

In their study summary, the researchers wrote, “One of the main findings in this survey was that although responders had good knowledge of their weight status, this did not translate to a high level of perceived T2DM risk… Understanding the high risk of T2DM… particularly for women with overweight or obesity, is important as it offers motivation to lose weight and implement changes in behavior to reduce the risk of diabetes.”

They pointed out that earlier research had come to similar conclusions. For example, a study of Australian women published in 2010 reported that “Although women with known risk factors for type 2 diabetes were more likely to perceive their risk as high, we found that one third still considered themselves to be at low or very low risk for the development of diabetes. These results suggest a need for increased awareness of gestational diabetes as a strong predictor of type 2 diabetes risk.” Jennifer Keogh, PhD, a co-researcher on the new study, commented: “Women diagnosed with gestational diabetes often have a young family, which means any interventions need to be considered in line with small children, busy lifestyles and multiple priorities. The priority is to educate both women with gestational diabetes, and the health professionals who care for them, to ensure greater communication and boost awareness of the risk factors these women have. This is critical, as close to a quarter of women in this study had not been tested for type 2 diabetes following a pregnancy with gestational diabetes.”

Want to learn more about gestational diabetes? Read “Glucose Test During Pregnancy for Gestational Diabetes,” “Treatment for Gestational Diabetes: Once You’re Diagnosed,” and “Gestational Diabetes: More Treatment Approaches.”

Joseph Gustaitis

Joseph Gustaitis

Joseph Gustaitis on social media

A freelance writer and editor based in the Chicago area, Gustaitis has a degree in journalism from Columbia University. He has decades of experience writing about diabetes and related health conditions and interviewing healthcare experts.

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