WASHINGTON — Christine Leonard developed gestational diabetes when she became pregnant with her three sons.
“Each time I, thankfully, was diagnosed early,” said the proud mom from Arlington, Virginia.
But even though the condition disappeared after she gave birth, Leonard remains vigilant — in large part because studies have shown that women who develop gestational diabetes are at high risk for Type 2 diabetes later in life.
“I think it is real important to try to stay ahead of it as much as I can,” she said, adding she continues to get her blood sugar levels tested on a fairly regular basis during her annual physical exam.
“It is something I will be really aggressive about monitoring for the rest of my life,” Leonard said, noting that diabetes is easiest to treat when caught early, before complications occur.
Leonard, unfortunately, is the exception to the rule. Far too many women who develop gestational diabetes do not keep tabs on their blood sugar levels after giving birth.
“Current evidence suggests that less that 50 percent of women are getting the test done postpartum, and this is resulting in an increase in the number of women with undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes,” said Dr. Sara Iqbal, a high-risk pregnancy expert at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.
It is estimated that 10 percent of women with gestational diabetes are diagnosed with Type 2 soon after delivery. Over 10 years, the risk shoots up to 50 percent.
Iqbal treated Leonard and considers her a model patient. But she said many other women with gestational diabetes ignore medical advice about diet, exercise and the importance of ongoing diabetes testing.
Leonard said it could be that these new moms are so preoccupied with their children that they neglect to take care of themselves. Iqbal worries that the message about the risk of Type 2 diabetes isn’t getting through.
The National Diabetes Education Program at the National Institutes of Health is leading the charge for the federal government, and is making a big push during National Women’s Health Week (May 8—14) to get the word out to women with a history of gestational diabetes.
Dr. Griffin Rodgers, head of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, said it is important to remember that gestational diabetes can have important implications for both mother and child.
He said women with a history of gestational diabetes are at higher risk for both Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, and their children are more likely to be Type 2 and obese.
In addition to regular testing for these women, Rodgers also emphasizes that “keeping at a healthy weight by following a healthy meal plan and being physically active can reduce the risk for Type 2 diabetes.”