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Women and Diabetes

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About 15 million women in the United States have diabetes, which equates to about one in nine. And that means that one in nine women are faced with making major lifestyle changes to maintain good health. 

Making the changes is not easy, but it’s doable. Learn more about diabetes and how to live with it.

The basics 

Type 1 diabetes (often called juvenile diabetes, as it’s usually diagnosed in children and young adults) occurs when the pancreas stops producing insulin, which allows your body to use sugar from carbohydrates for energy and moderates your blood sugar level. 

Type 2 diabetes is a more common type and occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or resists insulin. It is most often diagnosed after the age of 35. Unhealthy life choices like not exercising, poor diet, or carrying too much weight can contribute to a diagnosis of Type 2.

Symptoms

Common symptoms of high blood sugar include:

  • increased thirst
  • frequent urination
  • extreme tiredness
  • increased hunger
  • unexplained weight loss, even when increasing food intake
  • lack of energy
  • blurred vision
  • frequent or recurring infections, such as an infection of the gum, skin, or vagina
  • cuts and bruises that are slow to heal
  • sexual difficulties

Outcomes

Without treatment, too much blood sugar causes damage to blood vessels, and that’s why diabetics are prone to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, neuropathy, eye disease, and wound issues. As with many diseases, diabetes-related complications are higher for women than men, largely due to their biochemical makeup, including hormones.

Diabetes and women 

Diabetic women are four times more likely to have heart disease, and experience worse outcomes after a heart attack than those without diabetes. Women are also at higher risk of other diabetes-related complications such as blindness, kidney disease, and depression. 

What to look for 

While there is no cure, diabetes is manageable, and we know that proactive prevention is key to chronic issues that take a toll on the body. Some of the preventative measures are listed below.

  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are the bane of the diabetic woman’s existence. To prevent yeast infections and UTIs, keep your blood sugar levels as close to your target range as possible. Other ways to prevent UTIs: drink lots of water, wear cotton underwear, and urinate often instead of waiting until your bladder is full.
  • Changes in hormone levels right before and during your period can make blood sugar levels hard to predict. You might also experience longer or heavier periods than your friends. Check your blood sugar often and keep track of the 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 help too.
  • If you know you want to have a baby, planning ahead is important. Diabetes can make it harder to get pregnant, and high blood sugar can increase your risk for preeclampsia (pregnancy-induced high blood pressure), delivery by cesarean section, miscarriage, or stillbirth. Work with your healthcare team to get your blood sugar levels in your target range and establish good habits such as eating healthy and being active. Your blood sugar levels can change quickly, so check them often and adjust your food, activity, and medicine as needed.
  • Postmenopausal women’s lower levels of estrogen can cause unpredictable ups and downs in blood sugar as do hot flashes and night sweats. This is also a time when sexual problems can occur, such as vaginal dryness or nerve damage. If your blood sugar levels have changed, you may need to change the dosage of any diabetes medicines you’re taking. Heart disease risk goes up after menopause, so make heart-healthy choices that also help manage your diabetes, such as eating whole foods and being active.

Current guidelines from the American Diabetes Association recommend regular screening for diabetes from the age of 45—earlier if a person has other risk factors. Women should ask about screening if they have polycystic ovary syndrome or if they are or plan to become pregnant. As always, a proactive approach to chronic conditions can lead to a healthier, longer life. But it is a lifestyle that a diabetic must embrace.

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