U.S. task force recommends women to test for gestational diabetes

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Originally published on January 14, 2014

All pregnant women should be give a blood test to screen for gestational diabetes after 24 weeks of gestation, according to a final recommendation statement from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force published on Tuesday (January 13) in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Diabetes occurs when the body produces too much or not enough insulin or does not use insulin correctly. Insulin regulates blood sugar levels by unlocking cells for glucose uptake. Late in pregnancy, the placenta secretes hormones that block insulin's activity, causing hyperglycemia, or high blood glucose, and cutting off glucose to the body's cells.

Inability to regulate blood glucose is the main symptom of gestational diabetes. The fetus receives high concentrations of glucose, leading to excessive growth and higher risks of premature birth among other complications, such as higher risk of developing obesity and type two diabetes later in life.

The baby and placenta "try to drive the maternal blood sugar up to drive more glucose into the baby to feed the growing baby," Loralei Thornburg, a high-risk pregnancy expert at the University of Rochester Center in New York, said in a Reuters report. "The mother's body balances this with increased insulin and other hormones. When the body is unable to keep up with this, and the maternal glucose becomes out of balance [too high], you have gestational diabetes."

Women with higher blood sugar and excessive weight are at greater risk of developing gestational diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, the condition affects 18 percent of pregnancies.

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