Preventing diabetes in pregnancy: targeting treatment to women who are most at risk

Our researchers are finding out whether early intervention can help prevent gestational diabetes in women most at risk.
  • Author's list

    Dr Sara White, Dr Angela Flynn, Dr Dharmintra Pasupathy, Paul Seed, Professor Lucilla Poston, Dr Carolyn Gill, Professor Helen Murphy

    Start date: 2020
    End date: 2023

  • Research centre

  • Research status

    Ongoing projects

Why do we need this research?

Women who are obese are more likely to develop diabetes in pregnancy – known as gestational diabetes – which can lead to health problems for both themselves and their baby.

Giving diet and exercise advice or medication early in pregnancy has so far not been shown to prevent gestational diabetes. However, we now know that some obese pregnant women are more likely to develop gestational diabetes than others. We want to see whether early treatment or advice can prevent gestational diabetes in these particularly high-risk women.

What’s happening in this project?

By looking at data from the UPBEAT study, researchers funded by Tommy’s have developed a simple tool that uses the results of a blood test, along with age, blood pressure and upper arm circumference, to calculate a woman’s chances of developing gestational diabetes. The tool is designed to be used early in pregnancy, well before the current test for diabetes, which is given at 24 to 28 weeks.

In this pilot study, the risk assessment tool will be used to identify women at high risk (more than 1 in 2 chance) of developing gestational diabetes. These women will then be given either dietary advice, dietary advice plus the anti-diabetic drug metformin, or no treatment. Our researchers hope that 84 women will take part in the study.

The team will assess the impact of these options on the women’s blood sugar levels and their metabolism, as well as their diet and physical activity levels. The results from this pilot study will give our researchers the evidence they need to set up larger trials to properly test how effective these methods are at preventing diabetes in pregnancy.

What difference will this project make?

Too often, preventative treatment for gestational diabetes is given too late or to people who are less likely to develop the condition. Our researchers hope this project will show that targeting early interventions towards those obese women who are high risk is the most effective way of preventing gestational diabetes. This work could eventually lead to these women getting the support they need early in pregnancy, thus reducing the health risks for them and their babies.

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