When I first suspected I had gestational diabetes, I spent hours on the Web trying to figure out what it would mean. I found a few discussion boards, but honestly, nothing just spelled it out.
So, while every case is somewhat different, I’ll tell you exactly what the gestational diabetes diagnosis means for me.
Glucose Challenge Test
The glucose challenge test is a screening given to almost all pregnant women, often at about 24 weeks. Mine was scheduled at 13 weeks due to pre-existing risk factors for gestational diabetes.
You drink a solution of very sweet liquid then wait an hour to have a blood draw to determine how well your body has processed the sugar. (That’s why it’s often called the one-hour test, for short.)
I’ve heard that some women are given the solution to drink at home before heading to the lab for their blood draw, but that wasn’t my experience in either pregnancy. I didn’t have to fast before the test, and I was allowed to drink water during the wait, but I had to drink the solution at the lab then sit calmly in the waiting room for the next hour without moving around too much.
I failed that test with a 177, well above the 130 cutoff for further testing. (Different doctors may set different thresholds for follow-up.) A high result on the glucose challenge does not mean an automatic gestational diabetes diagnosis; rather, it leads to the next level of test, the oral glucose tolerance test.
Oral Glucose Tolerance Test
The diagnostic test for gestational diabetes is the oral glucose tolerance test, sometimes called the three-hour test (though mine actually took closer to four hours).
It started with a 10-hour fast, followed by a baseline blood draw. When my fasting glucose levels were deemed healthy (84, within the <99 threshold), the three-hour test kicked in. I drank a liquid with twice as much sugar as the first test, then had my blood drawn and tested every hour for three hours.
You’ve probably heard that this test is unpleasant (to put it politely). True.
The liquid is far too sweet to taste good, and it gave my tummy a serious case of the rumbles. (Warning: If you vomit, you get to start all over another day, so try to hold on!) Worse, it’s a long time to go without food when you’re pregnant and, in my case, there was a serious sugar crash at the end.
My one- and two-hour results came back high (189 and 190, compared to limits of 179 and 154, respectively), but then my three-hour result was 54, which is seriously low (70 is hypoglycemic). I guess that means that my body’s own insulin did eventually work. More, it meant that I felt awful — hungry, shaky and faint, drenched in a cold sweat, and then weak all day, even after getting some food.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get the numbers until well after I had driven away from the medical center on my way to lunch. My tip: If you feel at all light-headed, ask for an immediate reading. Driving with such low sugar was actually quite dangerous.
I got a call from the doctor’s office a few days later, providing me with all the test results and the official diagnosis of gestational diabetes. The nurse told me I would need to keep a food diary for the next week and scheduled me for an afternoon-long class to learn all about gestational diabetes and how to manage it. The class was really quite helpful, but more on that to come soon.
Tomorrow: The gestational diabetes diet