A new study led by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has indicated that an early blood test performed during the tenth week of pregnancy can potentially detect the risk of gestational diabetes.

Gestational diabetes is a pregnancy-related disorder characterised by high levels of blood sugar. The condition could result in serious health risks for both mothers and infants.

“The test works by analysing the average blood glucose levels over the previous two or three months. The measurement is based on the amount of glucose accumulated on the red blood cells surface.”

The HbA1c (A1C) test is commonly used to diagnose type 2 diabetes. During the study, the test demonstrated the potential to identify gestational diabetes in the first trimester of pregnancy.

The test works by analysing the average glucose levels in the blood over the previous two or three months. The measurement is based on the amount of glucose accumulated on the red blood cells surface.

Prior evaluation of the test was limited to women who were already at high risk for gestational diabetes. Based on these findings, the HbA1c test is currently not to diagnose the condition.

However, the NIH study assessed records from the observational NICHD Fetal Growth Study conducted between 2009 and 2013 in more than 2,000 low-risk pregnant women across 12 sites in the US.

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HbA1c test results from 107 women who went on to develop gestational diabetes were compared to those from 214 participants who did not develop the condition.

The tests were conducted at early, middle and late intervals during the pregnancy. It was observed that women who developed the condition had higher HbA1c levels than those who did not.

A 0.1% rise in HbA1c above 5.1% in early pregnancy was linked to a 22% higher risk for the disorder.

HbA1c levels decreased in middle pregnancy for both groups, while the levels increased in late pregnancy. This increase is consistent with the decline in sensitivity to insulin.

Study senior author Cuilin Zhang said: “Our results suggest that the HbA1C test potentially could help identify women at risk for gestational diabetes early in pregnancy, when lifestyle changes may be more effective in reducing their risk.”

The researchers added that further studies are required to validate if testing HbA1c levels in early pregnancy can identify a woman’s later risk for gestational diabetes.