Seek Safe Strategies to Diagnose Gestational Diabetes During Pandemic

Heidi Splete

May 28, 2020

Clinicians and pregnant women are less likely to prescribe and undergo the oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) to diagnose gestational diabetes in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a review by H. David McIntyre, MD, of the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, and Robert G. Moses, MD, of Wollongong (Australia) Hospital.

National and international discussions of whether a one- or two-step test for gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) is optimal, and which women should be tested are ongoing, but the potential for exposure risks to COVID-19 are impacting the test process, they wrote in a commentary published in Diabetes Care.

"Any national or local guidelines should be developed with the primary aim of being protective for pregnant women and workable in the current health crisis," they wrote.

Key concerns expressed by women and health care providers include the need for travel to be tested, the possible need for two visits, and the several hours spent in a potentially high-risk specimen collection center.

"Further, a GDM diagnosis generally involves additional health service visits for diabetes education, glucose monitoring review, and fetal ultrasonography, all of which carry exposure risks during a pandemic," Dr. McIntyre and Dr. Moses noted.

Professional societies in the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia have issued guidance to clinicians for modifying GDM diagnoses criteria during the pandemic that aim to reduce the need for the oral glucose tolerance test both during and after pregnancy.

Pandemic guidelines for all three of these countries support the identification of GDM using early pregnancy hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) of at least 41 mmol/mol (5.9%).

Then, professionals in the United Kingdom recommend testing based on risk factors and diagnosing GDM based on any of these criteria: HbA1c of at least 39 mmol/mol (5.7%), fasting venous plasma glucose of at least 5.6 mmol/L (preferred), or random VPG of at least 9.0 mmol/L.

The revised testing pathway for Canada accepts an HbA1c of at least 39 mmol/mol (5.7%) and/or random VPG of at least 11.1 mmol/L.

"The revised Australian pathway does not include HbA1c but recommends a fasting VPG with progression to OGTT only if this result is 4.7-5.0 mmol/L," Dr. McIntyre and Dr. Moses explained.

Overall, the revised guidelines for GDM testing will likely miss some women and only identify those with higher levels of hyperglycemia, the authors wrote. In addition, "the evidence base for these revised pathways is limited and that each alternative strategy should be evaluated over the course of the current pandemic."

Validation of new testing strategies are needed, and the pandemic may provide and opportunity to adopt an alternative to the OGTT. The World Health Organization has not issued revised guidance for other methods of testing, but fasting VPG alone may be the simplest and most cost effective, at least for the short term, they noted.

"In this 'new COVID world,' GDM should not be ignored but pragmatically merits a lower priority than the avoidance of exposure to the COVID-19 virus," although no single alternative strategy applies in all countries and situations, the authors concluded. Pragmatic measures and documentation of outcomes at the local level will offer the "least worst" solution while the pandemic continues.

The authors had no relevant financial disclosures.

SOURCE: McIntyre HD, Moses RG. Diabetes Care. 2020 May. doi: 10.2337/dci20-0026.

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