PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Doctors are now finding that gestational diabetes is more common than they thought.

New government figures show as many as one in 10 pregnant women has a complication called gestational diabetes.

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“The reason the number of patients with gestational diabetes is going up, is because one, as everyone knows, we have a tremendous obesity problem in the United States,” says Allegheny General Hospital obstetrician Dr. Paul Weinbaum. “That’s a main and major risk factor.”

Also, because this condition is more common in African Americans and Hispanics, as the population composition changes, the numbers change.

Every pregnant woman is screened for this, and if it turns out she has the condition, lifestyle changes, monitoring blood sugars and medication can help.

The exact cause of gestational diabetes isn’t known, but the thought is that hormones from the placenta make it harder for insulin to process sugar in the mother’s body.

“It turns out that about half of the patients who have gestational diabetes will in fact develop diabetes later in their life,” said Dr. Weinbaum.

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The risks aren’t only to the mother, but also the baby with a higher likelihood of a difficult delivery, birth injury, or cesarean section.

The risks go even beyond that.

“After the babies are born, they have a much greater risk to have low blood sugar, and more jaundice. They stay in the hospital longer, and they’re at increased risk for childhood obesity,” Dr. Weinbaum says.

To fight the trend, prevention, detection and treatment are key.

“Obviously, we’d love to get a chance to talk to people before they conceive,” adds Dr. Weinbaum. “There’s a lot of opportunities with lifestyle modification, weight loss, exercise, big issues relative to diet. That would be incredibly helpful.”

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