Diabetes poses multiple challenges to women’s health.
The prevalence of diabetes in women of reproductive age is increasing and, with it, the proportion of pregnancies complicated by preexisting diabetes. The baby’s organs are formed during the initial 7 to 8 weeks after the last period. Uncontrolled diabetes in early weeks of pregnancy significantly increases the chances of birth defects and miscarriages. Because these early weeks are so important, it is essential to have good blood glucose control for three to six months prior to conceiving.
Men and women with diabetes tend to have very different outcomes
According to a 2007 study in Annals of Internal Medicine, the death rate for men with diabetes fell between 1971 and 2000, reflecting the many advances in diabetes treatment. However, the death rate for women with diabetes showed no signs of improvement during the same time frame. Additionally, the difference in death rates between women who had diabetes and those who didn’t more than doubled.
This study of diabetes in men and women offered several possible reasons for the gender differences, including:
- Women often receive less aggressive treatment for cardiovascular risk factors and conditions related to diabetes.
- The complications of diabetes in women are more difficult to diagnose.
- Women often have different kinds of heart disease than men.
- Hormones and inflammation act differently in women.
Women suffering from diabetes are at a higher risk of:
- Heart disease
- Birth anomalies (if blood glucose is deranged during pregnancy)
- Recurrent urinary tract infection
- Vaginal infection
- Kidney problems
Roughly 10% of pregnant women have high blood glucose levels which are detected around 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy. This condition called gestational diabetes mellitus or GDM occurs due to hormonal alteration during pregnancy makes the mother resistant to insulin. GDM usually goes away after delivery but women with a history of GDM are prone to develop diabetes in future. GDM, has not been properly treated, can result in a large baby (weighing more than 4 kg). Increase in size of the baby can result in injury to the mother or baby during delivery and increase the chance of cesarean section. Recent research shows that large babies born to mothers with GDM have a higher chance of obesity and type 2 diabetes in later life.
In the general population, women live longer than men, largely because of their lower rates of heart disease. Yet, when women get diabetes, they cease to have this advantage. Women under age 50 with diabetes are more vulnerable to heart attacks and strokes as the disease seems to cancel protective effects of estrogen on a woman’s heart before menopause. It is observed that approximately two-thirds of women with diabetes ultimately die from heart disease and stroke.
Many women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) also have diabetes. The unifying link between the two diseases is possibly insulin resistance or inability of insulin to act properly in the body. Urinary tract infections and vaginal yeast infections are more common in women with diabetes. The fungi and bacteria that cause these infections thrive in a high-sugar environment, and the body’s immune system can’t fight them in the setting of uncontrolled diabetes. Women suffering from diabetes also have a higher risk of kidney and eye problems, depression and menstrual irregularities. Few medications are used for treatment of diabetes but can cause osteoporosis or weakening of bones and should be avoided in women who are at increased risk of fracture. All these complications of diabetes can be prevented by timely diagnosis, dietary and lifestyle changes and use of appropriate medications when necessary.
Symptoms of diabetes in women
Women with diabetes experience many of the same symptoms as men. However, some symptoms are unique to women. Understanding both will help you identify diabetes so you can seek treatment early when the disease is easier to manage.
Symptoms unique to women include:
- vaginal and oral yeast infections
- vaginal thrush
- urinary infections
- female sexual dysfunction
- polycystic ovary syndrome
Symptoms experienced by women and men:
- increased thirst and hunger
- frequent urination
- weight loss or gain that has no obvious cause
- blurred vision
- wounds that heal slowly
- skin infections
- patches of darker skin in areas of the body that have creases
- breath that has a sweet or fruity odor
- reduced feeling in hands or feet
NOTE: At Atlantic Endocrinology & Diabetes Center we want you to know It’s important to keep in mind that many people with type 2 diabetes have no noticeable symptoms.
Tips to stay healthy with diabetes
- Exercise regularly
- Eat a low-fat diet
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Don’t Smoke
- Control your blood pressure
- Take care of diabetes
- Regulate your blood lipid levels
- Screen for complications periodically