Hyperglycemia During Pregnancy: Causes & Effects

Instructor: Alyssa Campbell

Alyssa is an active RN and teaches Nursing and Leadership university courses. She also has a Doctorate in Nursing Practice and a Master's in Business Administration.

Hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, can be a challenge during pregnancy. Read this lesson to learn more about the causes and effects of hyperglycemia during pregnancy.

What is Hyperglycemia?

Hyperglycemia is an overabundance of sugar in the blood stream that occurs when the body is unable to appropriately process the sugar and turn it into energy. It can be caused by diet, pancreatic dysfunction, obesity, or a sudden increase in exercise, stress, or illness. This condition may be either short-term or long-term and can even occur during pregnancy.

Jazmine, a 33-year-old woman, is excited to be expecting a baby. Although she is only a few short months away from her delivery date, she is anxious to find out the results of her glucose testing to determine how well her body processes sugar. If the blood drawn shows high levels of glucose one hour after she consumes a sugary drink, further testing is recommended. Jazmine tests in the high range, so she returns another day to complete a three-hour glucose tolerance test, in which her blood is drawn after fasting, and then every hour for three hours after she drinks a very sugary solution. This differs from the one-hour test because it gives the body more time to process sugar and is a good indicator of whether or not hyperglycemia is an actual concern.

Jazmine's three-hour glucose tolerance test results indicate that her body hasn't been able to efficiently process the sugar from the special drink. Since hyperglycemia runs in her family, Jazmine is nervous about what a high blood sugar level might mean for her pregnancy.

Learning More

Jazmine scheduled the earliest appointment she could to have her test, recommended by her doctor to be between 24-28 weeks of pregnancy. Although Jazmine is only experiencing a few of the common symptoms, her doctor tells her that she has gestational diabetes, or diabetes caused by pregnancy. She learns that the common symptoms of hyperglycemia include the following:

  • Dry mouth
  • Increased urination
  • A fruity breath odor in dangerously high levels
  • Increased thirst
  • Nausea
  • Confusion

Potential Causes and Risk Factors

Jazmine is upset to hear that she does have gestational diabetes, and the nurse explains several factors that have put her at risk.

  • Weight: Jazmine has been consistently overweight since she was a young girl. She learns that obesity and being overweight greatly increase the risk of gestational diabetes even though she was not diabetic prior to becoming pregnant.
  • Age: Advanced age may also be a factor. Jazmine is only 33 but is still at a higher risk for gestational diabetes than if she was younger than 25.
  • Race and Ethnicity: Jazmine is Hispanic, placing her at high risk along with many other non-white ethnicities.
  • Medical History: Although Jazmine herself did not have diabetes previously, her family history is positive for hyperglycemia in her mother.

Jazmine is comforted by the nurse after hearing that despite all the risk factors, there is still no completely determinable cause for hyperglycemia during pregnancy. The nurse explains that as the pregnancy progresses, the body produces an increased amount of hormones, some of which block the body's ability to transform sugar into energy the body can actually use. This results in hyperglycemia.

While Jazmine felt relieved that she can now take action in treating the hyperglycemia, she was instructed on how important it was to do so.

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