Diabetes is a condition that can affect anyone, regardless of their age or their gender. Just because it is a little more common in men, doesn’t mean that women shouldn’t be aware and educated of their unique risks and complications. Let’s explore what women should know about diabetes as it relates to them.
About Diabetes and Women
Diabetes can affect both men and women, but there are some differences that occur when a woman is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. If you have signs and symptoms of this disease, or have recently been diagnosed, here are some things to know about having diabetes as a woman. (Source)
As a woman with diabetes, you also have all the same symptoms and dangers as men with this disease. You need to be concerned about foot problems, eye diseases like diabetic retinopathy, fatigue, weight fluctuations, dizziness, and nerve damage. It is important that you receive treatment as soon as you are diagnosed and be sure to listen to your health practitioner’s treatment and lifestyle recommendations. Whether you change your diet or have to take medications, it can help you deal with diabetes and avoid all the potential complications at the same time.
Diabetes Risk Factors
Many of the risk factors of getting diabetes, both type 1 and type 2, are similar to men. However, there are some instances where women might have some different risk factors. By knowing these risks, women have a good chance at avoiding type 2 diabetes.
Type 1 Diabetes
The first type of diabetes we’ll talk about is Type 1 diabetes. This is different than Type 2 diabetes, therefore its risk factors and complications also tend to be different. Type 1 diabetes occurs most often in childhood. This type of diabetes occurs when the pancreas doesn’t create enough insulin in the body. With this type of diabetes, women might have a family history of the disease, infections of the pancreas at a young age, or possibly other diseases of the pancreas that increase their risk.
Type 2 Diabetes
The most common form is Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes occurs when there is too much sugar in the bloodstream and is called insulin resistance. This is the type of diabetes that has more risk factors and can rear its ugly head at any age. There is a higher risk for diabetes if you:
- are overweight or obese
- are age 45 or older
- have a family history of diabetes
- are African American, Alaska Native, American Indian, Asian American, Hispanic/Latino, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander
- have high blood pressure
- have a low level of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, or a high level of triglycerides
- have a history of gestational diabetes or gave birth to a baby weighing 9 pounds or more
- are not physically active
- have a history of heart disease or stroke
- have depression
- have polycystic ovary syndrome , also called PCOS
- have acanthosis nigricans—dark, thick, and velvety skin around your neck or armpits
Unique to women, PCOS increases the risk for diabetes. PCOS stands for polycystic ovarian syndrome and is caused by irregular hormonal levels, which also bring on insulin resistance. This is why is why these two are linked so closely. PCOS can lead to infertility, weight gain, depression, and the symptoms of diabetes as well. (Source)
The final type of diabetes you might get if you are a woman is gestational diabetes. This type of diabetes also causes an increase of blood glucose levels, except it only occurs during pregnancy. You may not have diabetes before or after your pregnancy, but will need to monitor your diabetes during your pregnancy for your health and for the health of your baby. Some risk factors for gestational diabetes include being older when you get pregnant, having a family history of diabetes, being overweight, and having high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Make sure you have your blood glucose monitored by a doctor if you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes.
If you are a woman with diabetes, it is essential that you see your health practitioner regularly and follow all recommendations to help manage the disease. You also need to be aware of the potential complications, which are much more common if you don’t follow your practitioner’s instructions. Here are some complications to be aware of.
Damage to the eyes and vision is a considerabe risk and potential complication when you have diabetes. Unfortunately, this is one of the more common complications that can occur and is even more common in women than in men. However you can minimize the risk by monitoring blood sugar closely and following lifestyle and treatment plans. The main eye condition to be concerned about is called diabetic retinopathy, which can ultimately lead to blindness. Women also have a higher risk for cataracts and other eye-related diseases.
Nerve and Foot Complications
Both nerve and foot damage are persistent complications of people with diabetes. When you think of someone with diabetes, you might think of someone who has lost their foot or both feet. This is a more severe complication, but one that is a risk with people who don’t manage their diabetes like they should. You may also experience nerve damage or neuropathy, which is numbness in your feet.
Diabetes increases the risk of heart disease—the most common complication of diabetes—in women four times as opposed to two times in men.
Increased Risk of Infection
Women with type 2 diabetes have an increased risk of both yeast infections and urinary tract infections. To prevent yeast infections and UTIs, keep your blood sugar levels as close to your target range as possible.
One way diabetes is different for women is that it can affect their sex life if they don’t manage it properly. Women may notice changes in their sexual function due to nerve damage. Diabetes, when not managed properly, can ultimately lead to tingling and loss of feeling in various body parts, including the vaginal area.
Women may also have an increased amount of vaginal dryness—this is actually the most common complaint of women with diabetes—which obviously can negatively impact their sex life.
Hormone level changes during the menstrual cycle can make blood sugar levels hard to predict. Diabetes also may cause longer or heavier periods, food cravings can make managing diabetes more difficult. You may notice a pattern over time, or you may find that every period is different.
What you can do: Check your blood sugar often and log your results to see if there’s a pattern. If you use insulin, you might need to take more in the days before your period. Talk to your doctor about changing your dosage if needed. Being active on most days, eating healthy food in the right amounts, and getting enough sleep can all help too.