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Diabetes and Women

Diabetes and Women

Table of Contents

Diabetes is a group of metabolic diseases in which a person has high blood glucose levels due to problems making or using the insulin hormone. The body needs insulin to make and use energy from its carbohydrates.

Diabetes can affect people of any lifestyle, age, race, ethnic group, sex, or gender. This condition can often have more severe effects on women compared to men.

Researchers found that compared to men with diabetes, women with diabetes experienced:

  • 13% higher risk of death from all causes
  • The risk of death from cardiovascular diseases is 30% higher
  • The risk of dying from coronary heart disease is 58% higher

Symptoms

Symptoms

The following symptoms can potentially affect people :

  • Frequent urination
  • Weight gain or weight loss with no obvious cause
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Increased thirst and hunger
  • Skin infections
  • Acanthosis nigricans (patches of darker skin at the armpits, groin, and back of the neck)
  • Irritability
  • Blurry vision
  • Wounds that heal slowly
  • Reduced feeling in the hands or feet

Symptoms of diabetes in women

Men and women with diabetes may experience many of the same symptoms. However, some symptoms are unique to women. Understanding these symptoms may help identify diabetes and treat it early.

Candida infections

Hyperglycemia can cause fungal growth. Yeast overgrowth caused by Candida can lead to vaginal or oral yeast infections. These common infections are also known as thrush. When an infection develops in the vaginal area, symptoms can include:

Oral yeast infections often cause a white coating on the tongue and inside the mouth.

Polycystic ovary syndrome

The exact cause of polycystic ovary syndrome is unknown. It can occur when a woman produces too much androgen and has certain risk factors, such as a family history of PCOS. In one study, researchers found that the main androgens involved in PCOS are testosterone and androstenedione.

Symptoms of PCOS include:

Polycystic ovary syndrome is also associated with a type of insulin resistance that raises blood sugar levels and increases the risk of diabetes. Insulin resistance may be a symptom or cause of PCOS.

Urinary tract infections (UTIs)

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract. This risk is higher in women with diabetes. UTIs are common in this group, as high blood sugar compromises the immune system. UTIs can cause:

  • Burning sensation during urination
  • Bloody or cloudy urine
  • Painful urination

Vaginal dryness

Vaginal dryness

Diabetic neuropathy occurs when high blood sugar levels damage your nerve fibers. This injury can cause tingling and loss of sensation in various parts of the body, including:

  • Hands
  • Feet
  • Legs

What are the types?

There are different types. The most common forms are:

  • Type 2: In this type, the body does not produce enough insulin, or the body’s cells do not respond to insulin normally (insulin resistance). This is the most common type of diabetes.
  • Prediabetes: This type is the stage before type 2. Blood glucose levels are higher than usual but not high enough to be officially diagnosed as type 2 diabetes.
  • Type 1: This type is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas for unknown reasons. Up to 10% of people with diabetes have type 1. It is usually diagnosed in young adults and children but can develop at any age.
  • Gestational: Gestational diabetes, a form of diabetes affecting 2-10% of pregnancies, disrupts how your body uses sugar. While often symptomless, some may experience increased thirst, urination, fatigue, and blurred vision. Early detection and management through diet, exercise, and medication can prevent complications for both mother and baby, including preeclampsia, large birth size, and increased risk of future diabetes.

Risk factors for diabetes in women

Risk factors for diabetes in women

Here are some risk factors for diabetes in women:

  • Family history of diabetes: Having a parent or sibling with diabetes significantly increases a woman’s risk of developing the disease.
  • Overweight or obesity: Carrying excess weight, especially around the middle, makes it harder for your body to use insulin effectively, which can lead to diabetes.
  • Lack of exercise: Regular physical activity helps your body use insulin more effectively and can help prevent diabetes.
  • Age: The risk of diabetes increases as you age, especially after age 45.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): This hormonal disorder can increase your risk of insulin resistance and diabetes.
  • Gestational diabetes: Having diabetes during pregnancy increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
  • Race or ethnicity: Certain racial and ethnic groups, including African American, Native American, Hispanic, Asian American, and Pacific Islander, have a higher risk of developing diabetes.

These are just some of the risk factors for diabetes in women.

Complications

Diabetes can cause various complications, including:

  • Eating disorders: Some research shows that eating disorders are more common in women with diabetes than in women without diabetes.
  • Coronary heart disease: Many women, even young women, with type 2 diabetes have heart disease by the time they are diagnosed with diabetes.
  • Skin diseases: Skin complications include fungal and bacterial infections.
  • Nerve damage: Nerve damage can lead to pain, impaired circulation, or loss of sensation in the affected limbs.
  • Eye damage: Eye damage may result in vision loss or blindness.
  • Leg injury: If leg injury is not treated in time, it can lead to amputation.
  • Depression: Women with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing depression than men with diabetes and people without diabetes.

Diagnosing

Diagnosing diabetes in women typically follows the same process as for men, but some doctors may recommend additional tests due to hormonal factors. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Symptoms: Doctors will first discuss any symptoms you’re experiencing, like frequent urination, increased thirst, fatigue, or blurry vision.
  • Blood sugar tests: A fasting blood sugar test or an A1C test will measure your blood sugar levels to identify abnormalities.
  • Gestational diabetes screening: If pregnant, you’ll likely undergo a glucose tolerance test to check for gestational diabetes.

It’s important to note that some women with diabetes, especially in the early stages, may not experience any symptoms. Regular checkups and blood sugar monitoring are crucial for early detection.  If you have any concerns about your risk factors or potential symptoms, discuss them with your doctor.

Treatment of diabetes

There is no cure for diabetes. Once you receive a diagnosis, you can only manage your symptoms. Women may experience unique barriers to managing their blood sugar and diabetes. For example, some birth control pills can raise blood sugar.

Other ways to help manage diabetes are described below.

Medicines

There are various medications you can take to manage symptoms and side effects.  The most common medicines for those recently diagnosed include:

  • Insulin therapy: This therapy is for all people with type 1 diabetes.
  • Metformin: It lowers blood sugar levels.

Changing lifestyle

Changing lifestyle

Lifestyle changes can also help manage diabetes. They are:

  • Exercise and maintain a moderate weight
  • Quit Smoking
  • Follow a balanced diet

Monitor blood sugar levels

The latest ADA consensus report reviewed hundreds of scientific articles on how nutrition and diet can be used to manage diabetes. The researchers found that each person’s body reacts differently to foods, including carbohydrates, and that there is no single “diabetes diet” that works for everyone.

The ADA recommends an individualized approach to eating. This should include working with a nutritionist to figure out which meal plan, macronutrient composition, and food choices make the most sense for your goals.

The bottom line

Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. No exact standard or measure can confirm the duration of life with this disease. It can affect both men and women, but women may have specific symptoms.

Current American Diabetes Association guidelines recommend regular screening for diabetes beginning at age 45 or earlier if other risk factors are present. Lifestyle changes, Medications, and alternative therapies may help manage symptoms and improve overall health.

Additional questions

  1. How does diabetes affect women differently than men?

It affects men and women in almost equal numbers. However, diabetes affects women differently than men. Compared to men with diabetes, women with diabetes:

  • The risk of heart disease is higher
  • Quality of life after a heart attack
  • Higher risk for blindness
  • The risk of depression is higher
  1. What is prediabetes?

Prediabetes is a warning sign that your blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough for a type 2 diabetes diagnosis. It’s like your body’s using insulin less effectively than it should.  The good news is that with lifestyle changes, you can often prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes.

  1. Is it safe for women with diabetes to get pregnant?

With good planning and management, women with diabetes can have a safe and healthy pregnancy. Here’s the key takeaway:

  • Pre-conception care is crucial: Aim for well-controlled blood sugar levels before getting pregnant to minimize risks.
  • Doctor monitoring is essential. Close monitoring by a healthcare team throughout pregnancy helps ensure the health of both mom and baby.

While there’s an increased chance of complications if diabetes isn’t managed well, with proper care, most women with diabetes deliver healthy babies.

  1. How does nutrition play a role in diabetes?

A healthy and balanced diet is essential for people with diabetes. Good nutrition controls glucose levels and improves cholesterol and blood pressure.

  1. Why is the glycemic index important?

The GI scale ranges from 0 to 100. Pure glucose has the highest GI, at 100. Eating low-GI foods can help control blood sugar. In addition to counting carbohydrates, paying attention to the GI of foods can be another tool to help manage diabetes.

 

References

https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/risk-factors/diabetes-and-women-1.html#:~:text=Women%20with%20diabetes%20have%20a,have%20diabetes%20than%20White%20women.

https://www.healthline.com/health/diabetes/symptoms-in-women#outlook

https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/diabetes

https://www.medicinenet.com/diabetes_symptoms_in_women/article.htm

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/310780#symptoms-of-diabetes