Though it may be transient, untreated GDM can damage the health of the fetus or mother. Risks to the baby include macrosomia (high birth weight), congenital heart and central nervous system abnormalities, and skeletal muscle malformations. Increased levels of insulin in a fetus's blood may inhibit fetal surfactant production and cause infant respiratory distress syndrome. A high blood bilirubin level may result from red blood cell destruction. In severe cases, perinatal death may occur, most commonly as a result of poor placental perfusion due to vascular impairment. Labor induction may be indicated with decreased placental function. A caesarean section may be performed if there is marked fetal distress or an increased risk of injury associated with macrosomia, such as shoulder dystocia.
There are other factors that also fall into the category of environmental (as opposed to genetic) causes of diabetes. Certain injuries to the pancreas, from physical trauma or from drugs, can harm beta cells, leading to diabetes. Studies have also found that people who live in polluted areas are prone to type 2, perhaps because of inflammation. And an alternate theory of insulin resistance places the blame on damage caused by inflammation. Age also factors into type 2; beta cells can wear out over time and become less capable of producing enough insulin to overcome insulin resistance, which is why older people are at greater risk of type 2.
Persons with diabetes who take insulin must be careful about indulging in unplanned exercise. Strenuous physical activity can rapidly lower their blood sugar and precipitate a hypoglycemic reaction. For a person whose blood glucose level is over 250 mg/dl, the advice would be not to exercise at all. At this range, the levels of insulin are too low and the body would have difficulty transporting glucose into exercising muscles. The result of exercise would be a rise in blood glucose levels.
Glucagon is a hormone that causes the release of glucose from the liver (for example, it promotes gluconeogenesis). Glucagon can be lifesaving and every patient with diabetes who has a history of hypoglycemia (particularly those on insulin) should have a glucagon kit. Families and friends of those with diabetes need to be taught how to administer glucagon, since obviously the patients will not be able to do it themselves in an emergency situation. Another lifesaving device that should be mentioned is very simple; a medic-alert bracelet should be worn by all patients with diabetes.
At present, the American Diabetes Association does not recommend general screening of the population for type 1 diabetes, though screening of high risk individuals, such as those with a first degree relative (sibling or parent) with type 1 diabetes should be encouraged. Type 1 diabetes tends to occur in young, lean individuals, usually before 30 years of age; however, older patients do present with this form of diabetes on occasion. This subgroup is referred to as latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA). LADA is a slow, progressive form of type 1 diabetes. Of all the people with diabetes, only approximately 10% have type 1 diabetes and the remaining 90% have type 2 diabetes.
In this health topic, we discuss hyperglycemic hyperosmolar nonketotic syndrome (HHNS), an extremely serious complication that can lead to diabetic coma and even death in type 2 diabetes. This serious condition occurs when the blood sugar gets too high and the body becomes severely dehydrated. To prevent HHNS and diabetic coma in type 2 diabetes, check your blood sugar regularly as recommended by your health care provider; check your blood sugar more frequently when you are sick, drink plenty of fluids, and watch for signs of dehydration.