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Posted at 10:38 AM ET, 05/14/2012

National Women’s Health Week: Gestational diabetes more dangerous than we assume

The morning after my second daughter was born, I, like any woman fresh from labor and delivery, was famished.

Before me sat a tray with a metal dome that concealed an awaiting entrée.

As I reached toward it, I imaged a feast of eggs and sausage, maybe a few sautéed vegetables. I had developed gestational diabetes during the pregnancy, and I expected that, like all my meals in the previous three months, this one, too, would be devoid of fruit, bread or anything that might trigger an unhealthy spike in my blood glucose level.
(Melissa Cannarozzi - The Washington Post)

My endocrinologist had warned me to keep following the strict dietary guidelines until she could test me after the delivery and make sure my gestational diabetes had not developed into long-term diabetes. On my last visit to her before the birth, she said something along the lines of, ”Call me when things settle down and we’ll schedule a follow-up.”

That’s why I checked “diabetic” on the hospital’s registration papers and its meal menu.

Though my breakfast tray didn’t reflect my selection.

Before me: An oversized, gooey cinnamon bun — with a side of orange juice.

“Excuse me,” I called after a nurse. “I think there was a mix-up.”

Nope. It turned out that the kitchen delivered what was available and was now consumed with preparing lunch. My menu request had fallen by the wayside as the over-worked staff was confronted with a barrage of special requests, others perhaps more dire than mine.

That breakfast turned out to be a metaphor for how I went on to treat the condition. The barrage of needs from my new infant took precedence. I quickly forgot about my strict diet or my follow-up with the endocrinologist.

This year, at the start of National Women’s Health Week, the National Diabetes Education Program is focusing on on this persistent problem. Too few women understand that the condition developed during pregnancy can be the gateway to lifelong Type 2 diabetes. At the same time, too few medical experts monitor the condition.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has designated this week as a time for health advocates to highlight women’s health because so many women neglect themselves as they care for children and other family members.

In conjunction with “Health Week,” the NDEP is publicizing some stunning statistics:

Of the up to 18 percent of women who develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy, almost a third are found to have pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes when they are tested after delivery.

And, about half of those who had gestational diabetes go on to develop diabetes in the next 10 to 20 years.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said up to 7 million Americans are walking around without realizing they have diabetes. Left unchecked, the condition can wreck havoc on a body. It can lead to everything from blindness to amputation to stroke and worse. (I am not fear mongering here. I have seen it’s nasty work on family members.)

The group is asking that health-care providers test women who have had gestational diabetes at six and 12 weeks after delivery. If normal, the tests should then be given every three years.

They are also asking women to pay more attention to monitoring themselves.

For now at least, I have luckily avoided full-blown diabetes. At least I think I have, as things have never “settled down” enough to follow-up with my endocrinologist.

They never will, so I can stop waiting and just make the call.

Did you develop gestational diabetes? Have you been checked regularly for diabetes since delivery, or do you monitor your risk?

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By  |  10:38 AM ET, 05/14/2012

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