Blood test may identify risk of women developing gestational diabetes

Pregnant women may one day be able to find out whether they’re at risk of developing gestational diabetes with a blood test as early as 10 weeks into their pregnancies, research suggests.

Some women become sensitive to insulin during their pregnancies and develop gestational diabetes. The condition causes women’s blood sugar levels to spike and can lead to a number of complications, including birthing larger babies and needing a Caesarean delivery. It also increases women’s risk of eventually developing Type 2 diabetes.

Currently, most women are screened for gestational diabetes between 24 and 28 weeks, or at the end of the second or beginning of the third trimester of their pregnancy. Doctors perform an oral glucose tolerance test, where a woman fasts, has her blood drawn, drinks a sugary drink like orange juice, waits for two hours and has her blood drawn again.

The National Institutes of Health analyzed records of more than 2,000 pregnant women from the NICHD Fetal Growth Study to compare HbA1c levels, a blood test that measures average blood glucose levels over the past few months. Researchers compared tests from 107 women who later developed gestational diabetes to results from 214 women who did not develop the condition.

They found that women who developed gestational diabetes had higher HbA1c levels early in their pregnancy, according to an NIH analysis published Thursday.

These findings suggest this test, which people with diabetes regularly perform, could possibly be used to diagnose a woman’s risk of developing gestational diabetes early in her pregnancy. However, the authors note more research is needed to validate this.

More so, randomized trials are needed to determine whether identifying the risk earlier could allow women to make changes that would lower blood glucose levels.

“In theory, we like to think it would help because women could change their diet and lifestyle,” said Stephanie Hinkle, a staff scientist in division of intramural population health research at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Hinkle cautions the HbA1c test is not recommended to diagnose gestational diabetes, and the NIH’s findings must be corroborated and followed up with more research.