Unaware Diabetic Mothers Place Their Unborn Children At-Risk

March 2008 - Only two thirds of the 20.8 million Americans living with diabetes are aware that they have the disease; nine million (8.8%) of whom are women age 20 and older.

With less than 30% of pregnancies planned nationally, many mothers unknowingly place themselves and their unborn child at risk of heart problems, physical anomalies, and premature labor. In cases where diabetes is not properly managed, the damage can be done even prior to conception.

Pennsylvania Hospital has launched Expecting the Best, a program to aid women in properly managing their diabetes through pregnancy, from pre-conception to delivery.

Karen Ferguson of Mickleton, NJ has had diabetes since she was young.

Though under control, she sought out the advice of Pennsylvania Hospital high-risk obstetricians and diabetes experts to guide her through her pregnancy. The collaborative program teams high risk obstetricians with endocrinologists and experts from the American Diabetes Association-accredited Diabetes Education Center.

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A Type I diabetic, Ms. Ferguson was concerned about the stress of a pregnancy on her body and the effect it would have on her diabetes. "I wanted to be under the supervision of knowledgeable experts and physicians leading up to and during my pregnancy," she says.

"When Ms. Ferguson started talking about pregnancy, we put her in touch with our experts at the Diabetes Education Center," said Harish Sehdev, MD, a high-risk obstetrician with Pennsylvania Hospital's Maternal Fetal Medicine practice, and Ms. Ferguson's physician.

Physicians also often send patients to Stephen Rosen, MD, Pennsylvania Hospital endocrinologist. The three work very closely with patients experiencing Type I or Type II diabetes, and those who develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy. The team has seen the number of expectant mothers with Type II diabetes increase steadily in recent years.

Dr. Sehdev, working work with Jack Ludmir, MD, chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Pennsylvania Hospital; Robert H. Debbs, MD, and Dominic Marchiano, MD, treat many high-risk mothers in their Maternal Fetal Medicine practice.

"We put together a diabetes care regimen that worked well and allowed her to have a safe and healthy pregnancy, while keeping her diabetes in check," explained Irma Yehuda, Nurse Practitioner working with Dr. Sehdev. "Women with diabetes need to monitor their blood sugar frequently keeping meals, exercise, and insulin in balance, and have regular fetal assessments during pregnancy," she continues.

Expecting the Best has aid aided many women like Karen Ferguson to a healthy pregnancy. "It is because I involved my physician and the diabetes experts from the start, that I now have two healthy children," says Ferguson.

"Talking to your doctor about the risks and controlling your diabetes prior to conception is key to a healthy outcome for you and your baby," agree both Yehuda and Dr. Sehdev.

Source: University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine