Q: Why do some women get diabetes when they are pregnant? Is this dangerous for them or their baby?

Insulin resistance (the diminished ability of cells to respond to the action of insulin in transporting glucose (sugar) from the blood stream to muscles and other tissues) during pregnancy is a normal feature. This is because it is beneficial for nutrients absorbed from a pregnant woman’s meals to be channelled first to the growing foetus.

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The development of maternal insulin resistance in the second half of pregnancy assures that this will occur. At least part of the reason for the development of maternal insulin resistance is that the placenta produces substances that lead to insulin resistance and as the placenta grows, the insulin resistance increases. This is called physiologic (i.e., normal) insulin resistance.

Indeed, a healthy pregnant woman does not get diabetes because the pancreas is able to produce enough insulin to overcome the insulin resistance and keep the glucose levels normal.

A small minority of women cannot do so and their glucose levels rise. These women tend to be the same women who are destined to get type 2 diabetes later in life.

The risk of developing type 2 diabetes is much higher in a woman who has had diabetes detected in pregnancy (Gestational Diabetes Mellitus or GDM).

GDM provides a unique opportunity to follow the natural history of type 2 diabetes in the years prior to its onset in women, since most GDM goes away very rapidly, often within hours, after the baby is delivered, and reappears in later life as type 2 diabetes.

If untreated, GDM can cause harm to both mother and baby, especially at or soon after delivery. Fortunately, outcomes of GDM are generally excellent in most developed countries.

Asok Cheriyan is specialist diabetologist and general practitioner at Al Waha Clinic, Dubai. Got a problem? Our fantastic panel of renowned experts is available to answer all your questions related to fashion, well-being, nutrition, finance and hypnotherapy. Email your queries to friday@gulfnews.com.