ABU DHABI // Diabetes is increasing in pregnant women in the UAE, and there should be more programmes to help women control the potential effects of the disease on their babies, obstetricians say. Speaking at an obstetrics and gynaecology conference in the capital this week, Dr Hisham Mirghani, acting chief of foetal medicine at Tawam Hospital in Al Ain, said the incidence of type 2 diabetes was on the increase, and that it was affecting the health of both pregnant mothers and their babies.
"Because of the largely sedentary lifestyle in the region and the increasing prevalence of pregnancies in older women, the chance of developing diabetes during pregnancy is very high," he said. Although no national statistics exist on the problem, experts estimate that more than 10 per cent of pregnant women in the country are affected by diabetes. They either develop the condition during pregnancy or are diabetic prior to conception.
Dr Bashir Salih, a consultant in obstetric medicine at the Corniche Hospital in Abu Dhabi, said about 14 per cent of all women who delivered at the hospital had diabetes either before or during pregnancy. About 40 per cent of these are UAE nationals. Both doctors attended the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists' Eighth International Scientific Meeting, which ended yesterday. Doctors emphasised that diabetes during pregnancy was a health risk to both the mother and the unborn baby.
"If the diabetes is not controlled prior or during pregnancy the risk of congenital abnormalities when the foetus is developing is two to three times higher," Dr Salih said. Heart defects are one of the most common effects, while spinal cord abnormalities and other problems are more rare. If the blood sugar in the mother is not controlled during the pregnancy, he said, the baby could start producing insulin and grow too large, too fast.
"It is not big in a healthy way," Dr Salih said. "Everything is larger but underdeveloped. The lungs are immature and the liver becomes big but does not function properly." To combat the health risks posed by type 2 diabetes, doctors called for national programmes to help pregnant women control their diets and blood sugar levels if they are already diagnosed with the condition. "Women in the UAE are usually aware of the risks of diabetes during pregnancy but do not do enough to control it," Dr Mirghani said. "So there is an urgent need for more multi-disciplinary foetal diabetic clinics in the UAE."
Dr Salih said the Corniche Hospital was also planning to launch a dedicated pre-pregnancy counselling service, which will involve educating and screening women before they become pregnant. "It is so important for women to understand the effects of diabetes in pregnancy and be screened before getting pregnant," he said. "The earlier we get them, the more we can influence the outcome. We need more pre-pregnancy awareness for women of child bearing age to check they are not diabetic, and if they are they have to go somewhere where they can get their blood sugar controlled."