Can I Develop Type 2 Diabetes After Gestational Diabetes?

Medicare Benefits Solutions
Apr 25, 2022

While gestational diabetes is a condition diagnosed during pregnancy, you may be wondering if a diagnosis will affect your health later in life. Understanding the differences between gestational diabetes and type 2 diabetes can help you stay informed, reduce your risk, and keep you healthy.

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Different Types of Diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs when your pancreas lacks the ability to produce a hormone, insulin, or the right amount of the hormone to create an environment that allows the conversion of glucose (sugar) into energy. Insulin resistance is when the pancreas releases insulin but without the proper response from your cells. Too much glucose lingering in your bloodstream, unable to penetrate your cells, sets the stage for maladies throughout your body.

There are three primary types of diabetes. Type 1, generally found in children, teenagers and young adults is treated with insulin injections for a lifetime. Type 2 affects mostly adults and can often be managed with certain lifestyle changes.

Gestational diabetes is applicable to pregnant women with no previous history of diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if you develop diabetes during pregnancy, you are at high risk of gestational diabetes turning into Type 2 later in life.

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Type 2 Diabetes

Obesity is known to be the primary risk factor for Type 2. The Mayo Clinic provides a list of other risk factors, including fat distribution, sedentary lifestyle, genetics, high (LDL) cholesterol and belonging to one of the higher-risk populations (Black, Hispanic, Native American and Asian). Also on the list of Type 2 risk factors is “gestational diabetes when you were pregnant or if you gave birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds (4 kilograms).”

Of the total population with diabetes, about 90% to 95% have Type 2. Because Type 2 is most often seen in older adults, some people refer to the condition as adult-onset diabetes. However, Type 2 has been increasingly diagnosed in younger people who are obese, making the term, adult-onset diabetes, somewhat misleading. Healthline referenced a study conducted by the American Diabetes Association that projected “the number of people under the age of 20 with Type 2 diabetes could increase by up to 49% by 2050.”

What is Gestational Diabetes?

When you are pregnant, your body goes through many changes, including hormone production and weight gain. These changes can interfere with your body’s capacity to efficiently put insulin into action. Insulin resistance, which all pregnant women likely experience to some extent, drives up your body’s requirements for insulin.

If you have insulin resistance before pregnancy begins, your risk of developing gestational diabetes is even higher. Other risk factors include gestational diabetes with a previous pregnancy, having given birth to a baby over 9 lbs., being overweight, being 25 years of age or older, having a family history of Type 2 diabetes, having polycystic ovary syndrome and belonging to one of the higher-risk populations (Black, Hispanic, Native American, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander).

CDC statistics reveal the occurrence of gestational diabetes in America is about 2% to 10% annually. About half of women with gestational diabetes will develop Type 2 diabetes later in life.

Preventing Type 2 Diabetes After Gestational Diabetes

An aspect that Type 2 and gestational diabetes have in common is the primary approach to prevention, which is losing weight if you are overweight. If you have a diagnosis of prediabetes, lifestyle modifications that include weight loss can alter the progression of Type 2. Some people are prescribed medication as well.

If you are planning to become pregnant and are overweight, take steps to lose weight before you conceive. Talk to your obstetrician or primary care doctor about the ideal target weight range for you. Of course, you should not attempt to lose weight if you are currently pregnant. Your healthcare practitioner can provide insight into realistic weight gain and appropriate physical activity during pregnancy.

To lower your risk of diabetes after having gestational diabetes, bring your body weight down to a healthy range. Your doctor or nutritionist can help you define your optimum post-pregnancy weight and set achievable goals. Schedule a blood glucose test six to 12 weeks after you give birth. To ensure your blood sugar levels remain in the targeted range, continue testing every one to three years thereafter.

Suggestions for Healthy Lifestyle Changes

  • Integrate foods into your diet that have less saturated fat, lower calories and more fiber, so that eventually your diet will comprise mainly fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains.
  • Increase your physical activity, working up to at least 150 minutes per week, as recommended by the CDC. You don’t even have to go to a gym. Brisk walking is an excellent aerobic activity you can enjoy outdoors. Depending on your fitness level, consider adding activities like biking, running and swimming.
  • The CDC advises that “losing 7% to 10% of your body weight can reduce the risk of diabetes.”
  • Avoid prolonged periods of inactivity. Try to discipline yourself to move around at least every half-hour.

Can Gestational Diabetes Continue After Pregnancy?

If you’ve had gestational diabetes, you may be at a higher risk for developing Type 2 diabetes in the next 5-10 years. Staying active, exercising regularly, and eating a balanced diet can help reduce your risk.

Usually, gestational diabetes after delivery goes away. However, the potential risk of diabetes after having gestational diabetes increases later in life. Maintaining a healthy weight, staying active, eating well, and not smoking can all help reduce your risk. Talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have.

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Does Medicare Cover Diabetes Screenings?

If your doctor assesses and documents that you are at risk for diabetes, Medicare will cover up to two screenings annually in the form of glucose lab tests. Having a history of gestational diabetes or having a baby over 9 lbs. is included in the list of risk factors recognized by Medicare.

Using a healthcare provider that is contracted with and participates in Medicare ensures that you will not be billed back any charges for approved diabetes screenings. As long as the provider accepts assignment from Medicare, there should be no cost to you for this preventive service.

Contact Medicare or your Medicare Advantage plan to understand coverage of pregnancy-related medical costs, such as regular checkup exams and ultrasound exams.

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