WASHINGTON -- A change in testing could nearly triple the number of women diagnosed with diabetes during pregnancy, but would catching milder cases help mother or baby?

A government panel is urging more research before doctors make the switch.

Gestational diabetes, the kind that strikes during pregnancy, is a growing problem. More women are getting it as they wait until their 30s or later to have a baby, and as they increasingly begin pregnancies already overweight.

If mom's high blood sugar isn't controlled, the fetus can grow too large, leading to C- sections and early deliveries.

Also, mom can get dangerous high blood pressure; the baby can be born with low blood sugar; the baby's risk of childhood obesity goes up. And while this kind of diabetes usually disappears at birth, the mother is left with another risk. Months or years later, half of women who had it wind up developing full-fledged Type 2 diabetes.

Doctors today diagnose gestational diabetes in about 5 percent to 6 percent of U.S. pregnancies, or about 240,000 a year, according to experts convened this week by the National Institutes of Health.

Most U.S. doctors use a two-step test. Now there's a push for doctors to switch to the one-step test that's used in other parts of the world.

The one-step approach, backed by the American Diabetes Association and the World Health Organization, isn't just about the convenience of a diagnosis in one doctor visit or two. It also would lower the blood sugar threshold for diagnosing the condition.

Yesterday, the NIH-appointed panel said many more pregnant women, 15 to 20 percent, would be classified with gestational diabetes if doctors widely adopted the one-step approach.

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