Researchers find new indicators of gestational diabetes risk

It may be possible for doctors to predict a woman's risk of developing gestational diabetes up to seven years before she becomes pregnant through blood sugar testing and body weight assessments, according to a new study out of the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research.

While gestational diabetes clears up after a woman delivers her child, posing few long-term risks, it can increase the chances of experiencing pregnancy complications that may impact the health of the unborn child. Avoiding the condition is considered one of the keys to experiencing a normal pregnancy.

For the study, the researchers collected data from 580 women between 1984 and 1996. This included information about blood sugar levels, blood pressure, body weight and cholesterol. The team reported in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology that the more cardio-metabolic risk factors a woman had, the more likely she was to develop gestational diabetes if she became pregnant.

In particular, the team's results showed that blood sugar and body weight were the strongest predictors of future risk. Those who had unhealthy levels of both were 4.6 times more likely to develop gestational diabetes than those with normal blood sugar and body weight.

The researchers said that their findings underscore the importance of prevention when it comes to gestational diabetes. The best way to avoid gestational diabetes during pregnancy may be to take steps to improve cardio-metabolic health before conception.

Additionally, the results of the study could redefine the criteria used by clinicians to assess women's risk of developing gestational diabetes. The researchers said that most doctors currently consider advanced age at conception, obesity, a family history of diabetes and previously giving birth to a large baby as risk factors for the condition. However, the present findings indicate that cardio-metabolic factors may be stronger predictors.