Insulin for the treatment of women with gestational diabetes

Julie Brown, Luke Grzeskowiak, Kathryn Williamson, Michelle R. Downie, Caroline A. Crowther

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) is associated with short- and long-term complications for the mother and her infant. Women who are unable to maintain their blood glucose concentration within pre-specified treatment targets with diet and lifestyle interventions will require anti-diabetic pharmacological therapies. This review explores the safety and effectiveness of insulin compared with oral anti-diabetic pharmacological therapies, non-pharmacological interventions and insulin regimens. Objectives: To evaluate the effects of insulin in treating women with gestational diabetes. Search methods: We searched Pregnancy and Childbirth's Trials Register (1 May 2017),, WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP) (1 May 2017) and reference lists of retrieved studies. Selection criteria: We included randomised controlled trials (including those published in abstract form) comparing: a) insulin with an oral anti-diabetic pharmacological therapy; b) with a non-pharmacological intervention; c) different insulin analogues; d) different insulin regimens for treating women with diagnosed with GDM. We excluded quasi-randomised and trials including women with pre-existing type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Cross-over trials were not eligible for inclusion. Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently assessed study eligibility, risk of bias, and extracted data. Data were checked for accuracy. Main results: We included 53 relevant studies (103 publications), reporting data for 7381 women. Forty-six of these studies reported data for 6435 infants but our analyses were based on fewer number of studies/participants. Overall, the risk of bias was unclear; 40 of the 53 included trials were not blinded. Overall, the quality of the evidence ranged from moderate to very low quality. The primary reasons for downgrading evidence were imprecision, risk of bias and inconsistency. We report the results for our maternal and infant GRADE outcomes for the main comparison. Insulin versus oral anti-diabetic pharmacological therapy For the mother, insulin was associated with an increased risk for hypertensive disorders of pregnancy (not defined) compared to oral anti-diabetic pharmacological therapy (risk ratio (RR) 1.89, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.14 to 3.12; four studies, 1214 women; moderate-quality evidence). There was no clear evidence of a difference between those who had been treated with insulin and those who had been treated with an oral anti-diabetic pharmacological therapy for the risk of pre-eclampsia (RR 1.14, 95% CI 0.86 to 1.52; 10 studies, 2060 women; moderate-quality evidence); the risk of birth by caesarean section (RR 1.03, 95% CI 0.93 to 1.14; 17 studies, 1988 women; moderate-quality evidence); or the risk of developing type 2 diabetes (metformin only) (RR 1.39, 95% CI 0.80 to 2.44; two studies, 754 women; moderate-quality evidence). The risk of undergoing induction of labour for those treated with insulin compared with oral anti-diabetic pharmacological therapy may possibly be increased, although the evidence was not clear (average RR 1.30, 95% CI 0.96 to 1.75; three studies, 348 women; I2 = 32%; moderate-quality of evidence). There was no clear evidence of difference in postnatal weight retention between women treated with insulin and those treated with oral anti-diabetic pharmacological therapy (metformin) at six to eight weeks postpartum (MD -1.60 kg, 95% CI -6.34 to 3.14; one study, 167 women; low-quality evidence) or one year postpartum (MD -3.70, 95% CI -8.50 to 1.10; one study, 176 women; low-quality evidence). The outcomes of perineal trauma/tearing or postnatal depression were not reported in the included studies. For the infant, there was no evidence of a clear difference between those whose mothers had been treated with insulin and those treated with oral anti-diabetic pharmacological therapies for the risk of being born large-for-gestational age (average RR 1.01, 95% CI 0.76 to 1.35; 13 studies, 2352 infants; moderate-quality evidence); the risk of perinatal (fetal and neonatal death) mortality (RR 0.85; 95% CI 0.29 to 2.49; 10 studies, 1463 infants; low-quality evidence);, for the risk of death or serious morbidity composite (RR 1.03, 95% CI 0.84 to 1.26; two studies, 760 infants; moderate-quality evidence); the risk of neonatal hypoglycaemia (average RR 1.14, 95% CI 0.85 to 1.52; 24 studies, 3892 infants; low-quality evidence); neonatal adiposity at birth (% fat mass) (mean difference (MD) 1.6%, 95% CI -3.77 to 0.57; one study, 82 infants; moderate-quality evidence); neonatal adiposity at birth (skinfold sum/mm) (MD 0.8 mm, 95% CI -2.33 to 0.73; random-effects; one study, 82 infants; very low-quality evidence); or childhood adiposity (total percentage fat mass) (MD 0.5%; 95% CI -0.49 to 1.49; one study, 318 children; low-quality evidence). Low-quality evidence also found no clear differences between groups for rates of neurosensory disabilities in later childhood: hearing impairment (RR 0.31, 95% CI 0.01 to 7.49; one study, 93 children), visual impairment (RR 0.31, 95% CI 0.03 to 2.90; one study, 93 children), or any mild developmental delay (RR 1.07, 95% CI 0.33 to 3.44; one study, 93 children). Later infant mortality, and childhood diabetes were not reported as outcomes in the included studies. We also looked at comparisons for regular human insulin versus other insulin analogues, insulin versus diet/standard care, insulin versus exercise and comparisons of insulin regimens, however there was insufficient evidence to determine any differences for many of the key health outcomes. Please refer to the main results for more information about these comparisons. Authors' conclusions: The main comparison in this review is insulin versus oral anti-diabetic pharmacological therapies. Insulin and oral anti-diabetic pharmacological therapies have similar effects on key health outcomes. The quality of the evidence ranged from very low to moderate, with downgrading decisions due to imprecision, risk of bias and inconsistency. For the other comparisons of this review (insulin compared with non-pharmacological interventions, different insulin analogies or different insulin regimens), there is insufficient volume of high-quality evidence to determine differences for key health outcomes. Long-term maternal and neonatal outcomes were poorly reported for all comparisons. The evidence suggests that there are minimal harms associated with the effects of treatment with either insulin or oral anti-diabetic pharmacological therapies. The choice to use one or the other may be down to physician or maternal preference, availability or severity of GDM. Further research is needed to explore optimal insulin regimens. Further research could aim to report data for standardised GDM outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberCD012037
Number of pages233
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 5 Nov 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Gestational diabetes mellitus
  • insulin
  • pharmacological management
  • blood glucose concentrations


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