COVID-19 prompts Queensland researchers to develop quicker and easier gestational diabetes test – ABC News

by health and nutrition advice journalist

Coronavirus limitations have had one positive outcome for most expectant mothers by prompting Queensland researchers to come up with an alternative to a three-hour test for gestational diabetes.

Key points:

The researchers hope the alternative test will soon become a permanent option for many pregnant women.

About 15 per cent of pregnant Australians are diagnosed with gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM), usually between the 24th and 28th weeks of pregnancy.

Because of this, more than 300,000 oral glucose tests are performed in Australia each year.

To have the test pregnant women must fast, then have three blood tests in three hours.

After the first test, they must drink 250ml of a sugary liquid to test for changes in blood sugar levels.

Five labelled vials of blood lie on a medical envelope.

Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital (RBWH) senior dietitian and researcher Susan de Jersey said the coronavirus pandemic provided researchers with a natural experiment to change the way GDM was screened.

“During the initial lockdowns, we didn’t want to put pregnant women at unnecessary risk by having them sit in a pathology lab for a number of hours, so we decided to implement changes to testing,” Dr de Jersey said.

A Brisbane dietition and researcher

“There was a group of researchers who had done some work to identify that about four out of five women could avoid having the test if they just took a single fasting blood test.

“It would then tell if a woman is at a very low risk of having poor pregnancy outcomes associated with diabetes or, for some women, confirm that they met the threshold to diagnose the gestational diabetes.”

Researchers are confident only a small number of pregnant women will still need to have the glucose tolerance test, saving time and money.

“It would reduce the burden on pathology labs so they can concentrate on doing COVID-19 testing and other things and also reduce the burden on hospitals and clinicians having to organise and facilitate all these extra tests,” Dr de Jersey said.

‘Quick and easy process’

Mother of two Sarah Ruston said she had undergone both tests, one for each of her pregnancies, and described the glucose tolerance test as “awful”.

“When I first found out I was pregnant for the second time, to be honest it was one of the first things that I thought about was, ‘Oh no, I’ve got to redo the glucose tolerance test’,” she said.

“Then, when I had one of my first midwife appointments (for my second pregnancy) they mentioned to me that at the moment due to COVID they didn’t want pregnant women sitting around in testing areas for three hours.”

Second time around, Ms Ruston had the one-off fasting blood test.

“It was a quick and easy process. I was able to go back to work, one blood test and then done,” she said.

“If the option to do the one blood test wasn’t available, of course I would just do the three-hour glucose tolerance test, but I think if you don’t have the risk factors and your doctors are happy for you to just do the one test, I would think certainly take them up on that.”

‘Women can tell us their experiences’

RBWH researchers are conducting a formal evaluation of the changes, which could result in new Australian guidelines.

“What we need to do is to determine that there was no adverse outcome, so as part of this research we’re going to evaluate that,” Dr de Jersey said.

Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital building and sign at Herston on Brisbane's northside in August 2017.

“We’re hoping that women can tell us their experiences of the two different types of gestational diabetes screening so that can contribute to the dialogue and the discussions about how we move forward.

“We also want to hear from clinicians — what are some of the concerns they might have, what are some of the things they’re hearing from women?”

Dr de Jersey said she hoped the changes would be implemented permanently “as soon as possible”.

“There are actually some clinicians who are continuing with this process now,” she said.

“But we want to have good hard evidence so that all women can be confident that, if this is the way forward, that there’s going to be no poor health outcomes as a result.”

This content was originally published here.

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