Diabetes presents significant pregnancy risk

16 September, 2011

A major diabetes conference has been told that women with the condition who become pregnant without the necessary preparation run the risk of having a miscarriage or a baby that is disabled or stillborn.

Speaking at a joint meeting of the Australian Diabetes Society and the Australian Diabetes Educators Association now underway in Perth, Associate Professor Wah Cheung said women with diabetes should talk to their doctor at least six months before becoming pregnant.

"Women with pre-existing diabetes are at highest risk during pregnancy and must prepare well in advance,” Professor Cheung said. “It’s far too late to talk to the doctor after becoming pregnant."

Professor Cheung, who is based at Sydney’s Westmead Hospital, said that uncontrolled blood sugar levels in women with type 2 diabetes posed the greatest risk to the health of an unborn baby, as there is a perception that type 2 diabetes is a less severe form of the disease. This is certainly not the case in pregnancy.

 "Miscarriages, stillbirths and babies with severe disabilities such as spina bifida are not uncommon in women with poor glucose control while women with diabetes have higher rates of caesarean section, hypertension and pre-term births," Professor Cheung said.

He also warned that some diabetes drugs can potentially harm unborn babies.

Poor diets, inactivity and obesity are driving an epidemic of type 2 diabetes here and around the world. At least 1.7 million Australians already have or are thought to be at risk of developing the lifestyle-related condition and the number is rising steeply.

While urging females with diabetes to discuss pregnancy plans with their doctor, Professor Cheung said that GPs also need to be proactive in addressing preconception planning.

"GPs need to understand diabetes and pregnancy and the risks associated with uncontrolled blood glucose levels and some medications commonly prescribed to people with diabetes," he said. “They need to develop a plan that deals with these issues long before their patient becomes pregnant.

 "When there is any doubt, doctors must be prepared to refer their patients to a specialist or Diabetes in Pregnancy services attached to a major hospital," Professor Cheung concluded.

 To organise an interview with Professor Cheung please contact Mairead McLaughlin from Ethical Strategies on 0405 951 572 or [email protected].

Source: Australian Diabetes Educators Association (ADEA)