Intermediate metabolism in normal pregnancy and in gestational diabetes

Diabetes Metab Res Rev. 2003 Jul-Aug;19(4):259-70. doi: 10.1002/dmrr.390.


Complex though integrated hormonal and metabolic changes characterize pregnancy. In the face of progressive decline in insulin action, glucose homeostasis is maintained through a compensatory increase in insulin secretion. This switches energy production from carbohydrates to lipids, making glucose readily available to the fetus. This precise and entangled hormonal and metabolic condition can, however, be disrupted and diabetic hyperglycemia can develop (gestational diabetes). The increase in plasma glucose level is believed to confer significant risk of complications to both the mother and the fetus and the newborn. Moreover, exposition of fetal tissues to the diabetic maternal environment can translate into an increased risk for development of diabetes and/or the metabolic syndrome in the adult life. In women with previous gestational diabetes, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes is greatly enhanced, to the point that GDM represents an early stage in the natural history of type 2 diabetes. In these women, accurate follow-up and prevention strategies are needed to reduce the subsequent development of overt diabetes. This paper will review current knowledge on the modifications occurring in normal pregnancy, while outlining the mechanisms. In this paper, we will review the changes of intermediary metabolism occurring during pregnancy. In particular, we will outline the mechanisms responsible for gestational diabetes; the link between these alterations and associated maternal and neonatal morbidity will be examined.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diabetes, Gestational / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Homeostasis
  • Hormones / physiology
  • Humans
  • Insulin / physiology
  • Pregnancy / metabolism*
  • Reference Values


  • Hormones
  • Insulin
  • Glucose