Gestational Diabetes Screening and Follow-up

A recently published review about peripartum management of gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) confirms that use of recommended guidelines, testing, and follow-up "…seems suboptimal at best and arbitrary at worst." Despite the fact that during pregnancy, a mother and her fetus experience health risks related to gestational diabetes, screening remains low across countries and study settings. Once a woman is diagnosed with GDM, she is at risk for developing postpartum Type II diabetes. The necessary follow-up testing is also not consistently completed, and many new mothers are challenged by recommended lifestyle modifications.

Unfortunately, women who develop gestational diabetes may not have any symptoms. Medical providers typically screen for GDM with an oral glucose tolerance test between weeks 24-28, or earlier if risk factors are present. According to Medline Plus, excessive thirst or increased urination may be present as a symptom. Blurred vision, fatigue, weight loss despite increase in appetite, frequent infections, or nausea and vomiting may also occur. A common challenge of diagnosing women with disease conditions during the peripartum period is that symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, or changes in hunger and thirst may occur as a typical part of pregnancy or the postpartum period, so a woman may not report all symptoms to her provider. Risk factors for patients in developing gestational diabetes can include age over 25, having a family history of diabetes, giving birth to a child weighing greater than nine pounds, having high blood pressure, or a high body mass index (BMI) prior to pregnancy.

What is the potential impact for pelvic rehabilitation providers who work with women during the prenatal or postpartum period? Because women who develop GDM often have larger babies, there may be an increased risk of a cesarean section, or injury to the pelvis during childbirth. While pregnant, a woman with GDM may have elevated blood pressures. In the postpartum period, the risk for developing Type II diabetes increases, yet may not develop for 5-10 years. Medical providers and patients each experience barriers to screening and follow-up, as described in the open access article available here. Barriers for health care providers can include not seeing the patient during the screening period, not having appropriate resources available for testing, lack of coordination between different providers, and patient refusal of the test. Even if a woman is identified early as having gestational diabetes, and is informed about appropriate diet and exercise modifications that will reduce the risk of developing Type II diabetes in the postpartum period, poor self-efficacy and social support may limit a woman from achieving her desired goals.

As is often asked regarding review of articles in this blog, what is the role of the pelvic rehabilitation provider? If a rehab provider is aware of the risks for the condition, we can respectfully inquire if the patient has been screened, and encourage her to follow-up during the 24-28 week window as needed. If a woman complains of fatigue or blurred vision, or changes in her habits that "don't seem right" to the provider or the patient, a referral to the managing medical provider can be made. During the postpartum period, providing community education, health and wellness screening, or clinical screening can be completed. It is necessary for rehab therapists to assist in identifying barriers to exercise and proper nutrition, and coordinate with a patient's resources as able. Having a support team such as nutritionists, exercise therapists, and social services can have a positive impact, as many women are focused on the daily acts of raising a child and have too little focus on their own health.

If you are interested in learning more about the prenatal period, the postpartum recommendations for gestational diabetes, and exercise prescription, find out which of the Perinatal Series of continuing education courses fits into your schedule. (These courses do not need to be taken in any particular order. )Therapists will find a blend of evidence-based support related to peripartum issues as well as evaluation and intervention techniques to apply in the clinic. The next Care of the Pregnant Patient takes place in April in Maywood (near Chicago Care of the PostpartumPatient is in Oakland, CA, in March, and the next Peripartum Special Topics course happens in Texas in October.

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