A while ago I wrote a ‘You Be The Doc’ regarding a patient with borderline gestational diabetes. That patient had her baby recently, and it was something of a white-knuckle affair. Here’s what happened:
The initial test for GDM is a 1 hour glucose tolerance test, and the patient was VERY positive with a score in the 190’s. In the medical world, it’s considered bad form to designate someone as ‘very’ positive, or ‘borderline’ positive. These numbers are cut-offs. If you are past the cut-off, you’re positive. That’s it. No rounding, no data massage. The cut-off for GDM is 140. So the test is positive.
There are lots of reasons why the 1-hour GTT is lame. You can eat virtually anything on the McDonald’s menu, then come to the clinic and take the test and have a pumped up test result. So, because you can’t really trust a 1-hour GTT, we follow it with a similar test that is at least a bit more rigorous (still lame, though). The 3-hr takes 4 blood glucose tests – a fasting, then 1, 2 and 3 hours after drinking a sugar-rich solution. Our patient had normal values for all but the 4th test, and it was only off by about 3 points. 3 points! Everything else was normal. In my last post, I pondered whether or not to bestow the diagnosis of GDM on this patient with this glucose profile.
We did not. We told her she was fine. No intervention.
Hey, we’re family doctors. We’re mellow. A coupla out of range values. So what? No big deal right? Actually, you might ask, what is the big deal? Well, the whole point is to determine if your body can metabolize (that is, put away) glucose correctly. Glucose – sugar – in your blood stream is a BAD thing. It doesn’t belong there, it belongs in your body’s cells. Think of it as energy. Like little burning, flaming, sparking packets of sun-beam radiation (that, incidentally, also taste really, really good). As this stuff flies around your blood stream, it’s like an average 2 year old boy left alone in a glass-blower’s museum (well, at least my 2 year old boy). This is, metabolically speaking, why eating high-sugar foods isn’t healthy…or at least risky. At any point, your body may look at all that glucose tearing apart your capillaries in your eyes and kidneys and brain, start wringing its metaphorical hands and just curl up into an useless whimpering pancreatic fetal ball and give up. If, for some reason, your body can’t vanquish the insane levels of glucose the average American pours into their arteries in a given meal, you have diabetes. High blood glucose levels cause all kinds of problems. The most important of which, in pregnancy, is HUGE kids. We call ’em “macrosomic”.
My patient – who we did not treat for GDM – went into labor around 8pm. Very little cervical change occurred through the first 10 hours. By noon the next day – we’re talking about 16 hours of labor here – she was finally ready to push. After pushing for 5 hours, the baby still wasn’t out, in fact, she hadn’t really moved at all. Imagine, after five hours of the hardest work you’ve ever done in your life…you get to hear your doctor say something oblique and vaguely encouraging like, “You’re doing GREAT! I’m sure things will progress if we keep working.” There’s a thing called the “labor curve” to mention here. Typically, if there isn’t continual cervical change, and steady descent of the baby once the patient starts pushing, the patient is said to be “falling off the labor curve.” When this happens, docs need to start looking for a problem. In general we look for one of 3 P’s: Power – mom just can’t push hard enough or uterine contractions not strong enough, Pelvis – is the “chute” too small?, and Passenger – is the kid too big? In this case, the patient was off the curve, and we couldn’t be sure that any of the P’s were adequate.
We were able to see the baby’s head well enough to allow us to use a vacuum, which did help bring the baby into the base of the pelvis. At that point, we had an OB in the room to evaluate for C-section. She was particularly concerned with our decision to not treat for GDM based on this patient’s glucose profile. Almost certainly, she said, this baby was macrosomic because she, by definition, had GDM (remember, our 4th value was out of range by 3). She also said that she would have treated the patient for GDM based on her very high 1-hour test, forgoing the 3 hr. entirely, since it had been “very” positive.
You can imagine my handwringing concern at this point. I let this patient sit around for MONTHS, cooking up a huge baby that was not going to get stuck in her pelvis. Bad things happen when babies can’t fit through pelvises. To think I could have prevented it by just being more aggressive early gave me the opportunity to experience some new emotion – as yet unnamed – that combines stark fear with wistful, sharp regret and a sticky sort of guilt all mashed together with insecurity and self-castigation. We’ll call this feeling FRGIS. Mid way through this experience, I felt extremely “Frgis-y”. That is, quite terrible. I’d, perhaps singlehandedly, resigned this mother to surgery (best case), or perhaps something more terrible due to shoulders, head or neck getting stuck in the birth canal.
In the end, the vacuum (which only adds about 10% more power than the uterus and mother already provide) created just enough extra oomph to get the baby’s head through. The shoulders were a tight squeeze, but there was no distocia (shoulders caught on the pubic bone…can be REAL bad). The mother hemorrhaged and required 3 different medications to get it stopped, and she had a pretty good-sized laceration that took about a hour to repair. But the baby did fine. Actually, rather cute. I usually think they look like aliens.
The upshot was that the baby weighed around 8 lbs. This IS NOT MACROSOMIA! This is a big baby, but not medically large. In the end, we had nothing more than a difficult delivery, which probably had more to do with the mother being new at pushing and not really knowing how to do it than anything else. More stringent glucose management may have helped keep the baby a bit smaller, but she wasn’t especially large even without management. And the patient got no shots, no medications and no extra worry about having a metabolic disease while she worried about just getting through her pregnancy.
In the end, the patient ended up with a beautiful, normal-sized baby. Yes, there was a pretty big laceration, but these are relatively common irrespective of the size of the baby. But in general, our management was within the standard of care, although there is room to debate whether or not we should have been more aggressive. True, the doctors lost hair and years from their lives (or, my life, anyway), and experienced the wonderful emotion called FRGIS, but hey, this is medicine, right?