Signs of Diabetes in Women

Diabetes mellitus is considered a type of metabolic disease in which the individual has elevated levels of blood glucose in the bloodstream because of a lack of insulin or because the cells are relatively resistant to the insulin being produced by the pancreas.

Diabetes doesn’t discriminate.  It affects both men and women, and affects people from a very young age to a very old age.  There is some evidence, however, that there are differences in diabetic outcome when comparing men and women.

signs of diabetes in women

In a study out of the journal, Annals of Internal Medicine, the rate of death for men with diabetes dropped between 1971 and 2000, probably secondary to better diabetes treatment for type 2 diabetics.  Unfortunately, this benefit was only seen in men.  The death rate for diabetic women was not decreased at all.  In fact, there was a doubling in the difference in death rate when comparing women who had diabetes mellitus and those who didn’t have diabetes.

The researchers felt that there were several reasons behind this difference in mortality between men and women.  Some of these reasons included the following:

  • Inflammation is different in women
  • Women have different hormones when compared to men
  • Women suffer heart disease complications differently than men
  • Diabetic complications in diabetic women are harder to diagnose when compared to men
  • Women have less aggressive management for heart disease as well as those conditions connected to diabetes

Signs and Symptoms of Diabetic Women

Women with diabetes mellitus often have the same diabetic symptoms when compared to men.  There are, however, some symptoms that only appear in women.  Symptoms that only women with diabetes have include the following:

  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • Sexual dysfunction in women
  • Bladder infections
  • Yeast infections in the mouth and vagina

Along with the above symptoms, women experience these symptoms when they have untreated diabetes:

  • Infections of the skin
  • Tiredness
  • Unexplained weight fain or weight loss
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased hunger
  • Urinating frequently
  • Blurry vision
  • Wounds that do not heal very quickly
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Numbness of burning of the feet and hands
  • Darker skin patches in the skin folds
  • Breath that smells fruity, sweet, or smells like acetone

These symptoms aren’t usually present unless the diabetes is in poor control so that, in the early stages of the disease, there may be no symptoms at all.

Types of Diabetes

The main types of diabetes are type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes.  Gestational diabetes is a third type of diabetes that only affects women in the later stages of pregnancy.  It is a good idea to speak with your doctor and follow their directions if you have diabetes while pregnant.

Diabetes must be in tight control if you have gestational diabetes or are diabetic and become pregnant.  This is because high blood glucose levels in a pregnant woman can cause stillbirths, neonatal complications, and birth defects in the pregnant diabetic.

Gestational diabetes only affects pregnant women and occurs in about 9 percent of all pregnancies.  This type of diabetes is due to the hormones of pregnancy that result in insulin resistance.  In gestational diabetes, the insulin levels are higher than normal but it doesn’t work as effectively so the blood glucose levels are higher than they should be.

Most of the time, gestational diabetes disappears after the woman has her baby. The risk for type 2 diabetics is increased in gestational diabetic patients, however, so that closer monitoring after pregnancy is warranted.

Diabetic Women

Risk Factors For Type 2 Diabetes in Women

As evidenced by data received by the Office on Women’s Health, a woman is at risk for type 2 diabetes if she has any of the following:

  • Have a first degree relative (sibling or parent) with the disease
  • Are obese or simply overweight
  • Are older than the age of 45 years
  • Have elevated cholesterol levels
  • Have hypertension
  • Have a history of gestational diabetes
  • Have had a newborn weighing more than 9 pounds at birth
  • Are of these races: Native American, Hispanic, Native Hawaiian, African-American, Native Alaskan, or Asian-American
  • Have little exercise, less than 3 times weakly
  • Have had a heart attack or stroke
  • Have a history of polycystic ovarian disease

Treatment of Diabetes in Women

Women have unique biochemistries that make it more challenging to manage their diabetes.  Some of these challenges include the following:

  • The fact that certain birth control pills will raise blood sugar levels
  • The changes in hormones seen in pregnancy, the menstrual cycle, and menopause
  • The increase in yeast infections in diabetic women

There are, however, things you can to do to prevent the onset of diabetes or at least to lengthen the time before you get diabetes.

Medications for Diabetes

Type 2 diabetics may be able to take pills for diabetes; however, severe cases unresponsive to oral medications will require insulin or shots for diabetes.  Some medications used for diabetes in women include the following:

  • Metformin
  • Insulin
  • Sulfonylurea medications that cause more insulin to be secreted by the pancreas
  • Medications called meglitinides, that increase pancreatic secretion of insulin

Lifestyle Changes for Diabetes

There are things a woman can do to decrease blood sugar levels without having to take medications.  These include the following:

  • Staying at a normal weight through exercise
  • Quitting or never starting cigarettes
  • Eating a healthy diet that is high in vegetables, whole grains, and fruits
  • Keeping track of diabetes by blood sugar monitoring
  • Taking herbal supplements
  • Taking chromium or magnesium supplements
  • Eating foods that help blood sugar levels, such as buckwheat, peas, sage, broccoli, and fenugreek seeds

If you decide to use natural treatments for your diabetes, look for a qualified herbalist or holistic doctor and tell your conventional doctor about any herbs or supplements you may be taking

Complications of Diabetes in Women

There are several complications that can arise when a woman has high blood sugar and doesn’t treat it.  These can include the following:

  • Heart attacks
  • Eating disorders
  • Infections of the skin
  • Eye damage that can lead to diabetic retinopathy and blindness
  • Damage to the feet and legs that can result in amputation
  • Damage to the nerves that lead to a numbness of the feet or hands

Outlook for Diabetes in Women

As diabetes has no cure, the only way to manage the disease is to control the blood sugar levels.  In one study, women who had diabetes had a 40 percent higher rate of death because of diabetes.  Those with type 1 diabetes fare the worst with shortened life spans by about 20 years when compared to normal women.  Women with type 2 diabetes may have a shortening of their lifespans by about 10 years.

Reference:

  1. How diabetes affects women: Symptoms, Risks, and More.. Accessed 5/16/16.
  2. Diabetes – type 1
  3. Diabetes Facts and Information
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