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Sharp Health News

Gestational diabetes risk may increase during summer

June 14, 2017

Gestational diabetes risk may increase during summer

Pregnancy and childbirth are some of the most exciting changes in a family’s life, but they can come with some unexpected curve balls.

A recent study from the Canadian Medical Association Journal found a correlation between higher summer temperatures and development of gestational diabetes, with mothers in the study showing a higher incidence of gestational diabetes in hotter months, compared to those who gave birth in cooler months.

With a hot summer right around the corner, Dr. Rick Chac, an OBGYN affiliated with Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, answers some questions.

Why is gestational diabetes concerning for pregnant women?
The most common complication of gestational diabetes is that infants can grow larger in size than what is expected for their gestational age. This may put the mother at risk for birthing complications such as preterm birth, increased risk for cesarean section and, in more severe cases, stillbirth and fetal abnormalities. Managing blood sugar levels during pregnancy is extremely important because of these risks associated with gestational diabetes.

What are the symptoms of gestational diabetes?
Unfortunately, diabetes does not have any overt symptoms. It is a disease process that progresses slowly over a person’s lifetime. With gestational diabetes, the mother may notice rapid changes in energy level, the sudden need to sleep or even breakouts of cold sweats; however, these symptoms are also common in a normal pregnancy and every woman may experience these symptoms once or twice throughout her nine months.

What doctors look for are warning signs, such as growth that is too rapid or amniotic fluid levels that are too high. Every pregnant woman is screened for diabetes at 28 weeks; some may receive screening earlier if they are at particular risk.

What can women do to prevent gestational diabetes or lower their risk?
To prevent gestational diabetes, the best thing to do is live a healthy, balanced lifestyle before getting pregnant. Eating a balanced diet that is lower in carbohydrates and processed sugars is a good start. When a woman gets pregnant, the placenta makes a hormone called human placental lactogen (HPL), which makes absorbing sugars harder as it decreases the body’s insulin effectiveness. Doing something as simple as eliminating soda and sugary foods from your diet can dramatically decrease your risk of developing diabetes when you are pregnant. Prime your body for health so that when you do get pregnant, your metabolism will be ready for this HPL.

Could hotter months be a possible risk factor for gestational diabetes? And if so, why?
A recent study found a statistically significant correlation between mothers who developed gestational diabetes and temperature, with a higher rate of gestational diabetes in mothers delivering in hotter months, compared to those that gave birth in cooler months. In this study, there was a 6 to 9 percent relative increase in risk for every increase in 18 degrees Fahrenheit.

The authors of this study did not give direct evidence as to why hotter temperatures would lead to higher rates of gestational diabetes, but do point to other studies that have shown our body’s ability to increase insulin sensitivity in colder temperatures. Perhaps when temperatures warm there is an adverse relationship when compounded with the decreased sensitivity due to the hormones of pregnancy, but more research is needed to confirm a direct correlation.

Gestational diabetes should be concerning for every new mother, which is why routine follow-up appointments with an OBGYN is so important. For those patients who might be at risk due to family history, speak with your OBGYN about what steps can be taken.

For the news media: To talk with Dr. Rick Chac about gestational diabetes for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at erica.carlson@sharp.com.

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