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Becky Furuta was pregnant with her second child when she was diagnosed with gestational diabetes during a routine glucose tolerance test.
At the Women Deliver Conference which held in Copenhagen, Denmark in May, she narrated her story, “Prior to that point, my pregnancy was completely normal.
“I never imagined I would have anything other than a typical pregnancy. But I knew something was wrong when I had not gained weight as one normally would in pregnancy, and I remember being so tired that some days I could hardly move.
“Everyone chalked it up to pregnancy and stress; but one afternoon, I returned from a training ride on the bike, and my hands felt numb. I had consumed three full bottles of water on what was a short and very easy ride.”
Initially, the emergency room doctor suspected that Becky had type 2 diabetes and recommended that she managed it through diet and exercise. When this proved unsuccessful, she sought an additional opinion and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
Becky is a member of the Team Novo Nordisk, a global healthcare company that maintains a strong focus on women’s and children’s health, with particular specialty in diabetes care.
Becky has a family history of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. As such, she knows fully well the presentation of the condition when she sees one.
She narrates, “My grandmother had an adult onset of type1, which was very well managed. My mother and my maternal aunt both lived with type 2, and neither was a great role model for diabetes management. I was determined to be like my grandmother.
“She lived well with diabetes for a long time, and had died two years earlier from illness unrelated to her diabetes. I really rely on my memories of her when I feel scared or overwhelmed.”
Unlike many women with the same health experience, Becky’s story ended well: her diabetes was put under control and she was able to have a healthy baby girl.
What is gestational diabetes?
According to Diabetologist and Chief Medical Director of Rainbow Specialist Medical Centre, Lekki Phase 1, Lagos, Dr. Afokoghene Isiavwe, gestational diabetes simply means diabetes in pregnancy.
“It is a type of diabetes that you may develop when you’re pregnant and your blood glucose (sugar) level is too high,” she explains.
She warns that though gestational diabetes is a temporary type that only develops during pregnancy, it is associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life for both mother and child.
Isiavwe notes that being diagnosed with diabetes is a life-changing moment for anyone; and for a pregnant woman, the doctor has double concerns both for the woman and her unborn child whose life will be endangered if professional care is not sought and obtained.
The medical director says that a person with diabetes has high blood sugar. And though high blood sugar is said to be one of the most common medical conditions associated with pregnancy, it can lead to serious short-term complications during and after childbirth.
Isiavwe adds, “The hormones produced during pregnancy can make it difficult for your body to use insulin properly, putting you at an increased risk of insulin resistance. And, because pregnancy places a heavy demand on the body, some women are less able to produce enough insulin to overcome this resistance.
“This makes it difficult to use glucose properly for energy; so, the glucose remains in the blood and the levels rise, leading to gestational diabetes.”
When a pregnant woman is diabetic, experts say, her baby may be at risk of not developing normally, the baby risks having congenital abnormalities — particularly heart and nervous system abnormalities; and s/he may be stillborn or die soon after birth. The baby may also develop health problems shortly after birth (such as heart and breathing problems); while s/he may also develop obesity or diabetes later in life.
Isiavwe assures that with good management of gestational diabetes, a pregnant woman can increase her chances of having a healthy pregnancy and baby.
Diabetes is preventable
Experts say women can significantly reduce their risk of developing gestational diabetes by managing their weight, eating healthily and keeping active.
Isiavwe says you are at an increased risk if you are overweight or obese, if you have had gestational diabetes before, if you have had a very large baby in a previous pregnancy (4.5kg or over), and also if you have a family history of diabetes (parent, brother or sister).
The bottom line: pregnancy cannot be managed alone. If you suspect that you are pregnant, see the doctor immediately and take to medical counsel for the entire period of your pregnancy.