Conference Coverage

Gestational diabetes: Treatment controversy rages on



– Pharmacologic treatment of gestational diabetes remains controversial, with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Diabetes Association firmly recommending insulin as the preferred first-line pharmacologic therapy, and the Society of Maternal-Fetal Medicine more accepting of metformin as a “reasonable and safe first-line” alternative to insulin and stating that there are no strong data supporting metformin over the sulfonylurea glyburide.

If there’s one main take-away, Mark B. Landon, MD, said at the biennial meeting of the Diabetes in Pregnancy Study Group of North America, it was that “the primary concern” about the use of oral agents for treating gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) is that there is limited long-term follow-up of exposed offspring.

“The claim that long-term safety data are not available for any oral agent is probably the most valid warning [of any of the concerns voiced by professional organizations],” said Dr. Landon, Richard L. Meiling professor and chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, Columbus.

Otherwise, he said, there are not enough data to firmly prioritize the drugs most commonly used for GDM, and “the superiority of insulin over oral agents simply remains questionable.”

ACOG’s 2017 level A recommendation for insulin as the first-line option when pharmacologic treatment is needed for treating GDM (Obstet Gynecol. 2017;130[1]:e17-37) was followed in 2018 by another updated practice bulletin on GDM (Obstet Gynecol. 2018;131[2]:e49-64) that considered several meta-analyses published in 2017 and reiterated a preference for insulin.

Those recent meta-analyses of pharmacologic treatment of GDM show that the available literature is generally of “poor trial quality,” and that studies are small and not designed to assess equivalence or noninferiority, Mark Turrentine, MD, chair of ACOG’s committee on practice bulletins, said in an interview. “Taking that into account and [considering] that oral antidiabetic medications are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration [for the treatment of GDM], that they cross the placenta, and that we currently lack long-term neonatal safety data ... we felt that insulin is the preferred treatment.”

In its 2017 and 2018 bulletins, ACOG said that metformin is a “reasonable alternative choice” for women who decline insulin therapy or who may be unable to safely administer it (a level B recommendation). The 2018 practice bulletin mentions one additional factor: affordability. “Insurance companies aren’t always covering [insulin],” said Dr. Turrentine, of the department of obstetrics and gynecology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston. “It’s a challenge – no question.”

ACOG says glyburide should not be recommended as a first-line pharmacologic treatment, “because, in most studies, it does not yield outcomes equivalent to insulin or metformin,” Dr. Turrentine emphasized.

Glyburide’s role

Dr. Landon took issue with ACOG’s stance on the sulfonylurea. “Frankly, I think this [conclusion] is debatable,” he said. The trend in the United States – “at least after the 2017 ACOG document came out”– has been toward use of metformin over glyburide when an oral agent is [used], but “I think glyburide has been unfairly trashed. It probably still has a place.”


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