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Pregnancy is an amazing thing but that doesn't mean that there aren't plenty of changes to your body such as extra stretch marks, swollen feet, and backache, all of which take time to adjust to.
Whilst you are busy growing a baby and watching your tummy get larger, one thing that may not be so noticeable is changes in your blood sugar levels. Throughout pregnancy, the placenta produces extra glucose (sugar) to support fetal growth but as a result, your body makes more insulin to help control blood glucose levels.
Simultaneously, hormone changes within the body can cause your body to reduce its response to insulin. This is a natural process known as insulin resistance and it ensures that adequate amounts of glucose are being passed to your baby from your bloodstream.
When there isn't enough insulin to move glucose out of your blood, it can cause your blood glucose levels to rise. This can lead to two different conditions, both of which are common during pregnancy: high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) and gestational diabetes.
What isn't so common and so well known, however, is the opposite of high blood sugar and that is hypoglycemia. In this article, we explain what the condition is, how it is caused, the symptoms to be on the lookout for and how it can be treated.
Hypoglycemia is considered to be a blood sugar reading of fewer than 60 milligrams per deciliter and it can happen as a result of changes to your body's metabolic control of insulin during pregnancy. It does also occur in those with diabetes mellitus (a type 1 diabetic) and type 2 diabetes, even if not pregnant, and especially when you use insulin to control your condition.
Low blood sugar levels can be dangerous if not treated quickly, but luckily it is normally easily treated and has a range of symptoms that can help you spot it.
Hypoglycemia during pregnancy normally occurs as a result of the mother having diabetes, although this isn't always the case. That being said, pregnant women with type 1 diabetes are particularly vulnerable to hypoglycemia during pregnancy, and women with gestational diabetes can also be susceptible.
Apart from those experiencing type 1 diabetes and pregnancy, and those who get gestational diabetes, blood sugar levels can also dip in pregnancy for the following reasons:
Not eating frequently enough.
Eating foods that do not adequately stabilize glucose levels.
Excessive exercise (which uses up glucose).
Severe morning sickness.
Incorrect diabetes medication dosage.
Being in your first trimester (it occurs more frequently during the first trimester as this is when many moms-to-be experience nausea and vomiting).
Types of Hypoglycemia
There are two types of hypoglycemia that can occur during pregnancy: reactive and fasting. Reactive hypoglycemia happens when blood sugar levels drop in the few hours following a meal. This is a common occurrence in people with diabetes but can still happen to those without the condition.
Fasting hypoglycemia, on the other hand, is when the blood sugar drops dramatically between meals. This type isn't as common in those with diabetes and is more likely to occur as a result of another medical condition.
Hypoglycemia And Diabetes
As we have already mentioned, type 1, type 2, or gestational diabetes increase the risk of hypoglycemia in comparison to someone who is pregnant but not diabetic. This is because, in diabetic pregnancies, you already experience fluctuating insulin levels but pregnancy introduces additional hormones that contribute to the likelihood of spikes and drops in blood sugar levels.
Type 1 And Type 2 Diabetes
For men and women with type 1 diabetes, the cause isn't known but the condition results in the body having an inability to make its own insulin because cells attack the pancreas. As an incurable disease, there are type 1 diabetes predictors that can be looked for in your genes, but the condition results in sufferers having to inject insulin to prevent hyperglycemic and hypoglycemic episodes. Type 2 diabetes, however, is when your body cannot make enough insulin or that which it does make doesn't work properly. Other factors, such as weight, can contribute to type 2 diabetes and it is often managed with a combination of diet and exercise.
Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that only occurs during pregnancy, with around 6-9% of women developing gestational diabetes during pregnancy.
If you are concerned about gestational diabetes and how this can affect your glucose levels, or you think you may have signs of gestational diabetes, then don't hesitate you ask your healthcare provider for some more health information. In addition, you can look out for symptoms of gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes symptoms can be hard to distinguish from normal pregnancy symptoms but include:
Frequent urination and in large volumes.
Sugar in your urine (although this can only be detected during a routine urine screening).
As so much changes in a woman's body during pregnancy, it can be hard to tell the difference between those that are a normal sign of growing a baby and those that should be of concern. You need to make sure you are taking good care of yourself from the start of your pregnancy right through to the third trimester, and whilst this might mean taking mid-afternoon naps or reducing strenuous activity, it also means taking care to notice any symptoms that could indicate hypoglycemia.
Low Blood Sugar Symptoms
There are a number of indications of hypoglycemia and whilst some can be similar to those normally experienced during pregnancy, there are others that can indicate you may need additional support and care throughout the rest of your pregnancy to reduce the risk of feeling unwell or further complications. Symptoms of hypoglycemia include:
Nausea and/or vomiting.
Tingling around the mouth.
Trouble thinking clearly.
To avoid hypoglycemia and, therefore, the above ailments, you should try to keep your blood sugar level consistent. Eating little and often can help with this, as can making sure that your meals include a balance of protein, carbohydrate, dairy, and fats. If you experience any of the aforementioned signs, you should find they disappear once your glucose levels are raised. If after eating, you do not find that they ease, then contact your doctor for advice.
Severe hypoglycemia in pregnant women can be dangerous. Symptoms of severe hypoglycemia require immediate medical treatment and cannot be overcome by the affected individual on their own. Severe hypoglycemic signs include:
Loss of consciousness.
Seizure or convulsions.
Disorientation or irrationality.
Where a pregnant woman has experienced severe hypoglycemia, it is likely that they may receive additional monitoring for the remainder of their pregnancy.
Occasional low glucose levels are unlikely to do any harm to you or your baby. If they become frequent, however, then there can be cause for concern as the brain requires glucose to be able to receive and understand messages from the rest of the body.
Being consistently hypoglycemic in pregnancy can lead to seizures, comas, and in extreme cases, even death. What's more, if your baby is born with hypoglycemia, or develops hypoglycemia symptoms soon after birth, they can experience the same complications.
For most women, hypoglycemia during pregnancy can be managed with relative ease through a careful choice of foods, regularly checking for low blood sugar readings, and being mindful of activity levels.
If you have any concerns about being hypoglycemic during pregnancy or you are experiencing symptoms of low blood sugar, then seek medical advice and treatment from a professional. Your health advisor should be able to check your levels and may even be able to give you a monitor so that you can keep an eye on it at home. If you can get a finger-prick blood sugar monitor for home use, be sure to record the readings as this will help you spot any patterns such as a spike in blood sugar levels after eating or lower glucose levels when you first wake up.
Treatment of Hypoglycemia
If you start to exhibit signs of hypoglycemia, sit or lie down for a minimum of 15 minutes and eat or drink 05. oz (15 g) of carbohydrates. Examples of foodstuffs with 0.5 oz (15 g) of carbohydrates include a banana, an apple or an orange, a handful of grapes, or a slice of toast. A return to normal blood sugar after eating is common, especially when you have a sugary snack or a fruit juice so it can be handy to keep such food items available at all times.
If you have diabetes, treatment might vary slightly and your doctor may make changes to your medication and its dosage. In addition, they may recommend changes to your diet and exercises you can do.
For severe cases, you may be prescribed a glucagon kit which, when injected, raises blood sugar over a period of 10 to 15 minutes by stimulating the liver to release stored glucose. As it is reserved for use in extreme circumstances where a patient cannot treat themselves or oral treatment has not been successful, it is beneficial to make sure another family member or friend knows how to administer the injection.
The expiry date of the glucagon injection should always be checked before use and the patient should be placed in the recovery position for safety. A glucagon kit will normally a vial of powder, a vial of liquid, and a syringe. The kit will include instructions that give details of how to mix these for injection and once prepared, it can be injected into the arm, thigh, or buttocks. There is no risk of overdose and once the patient is recovered, they should be given a carbohydrate-based item to eat or drink.
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