Women and Diabetes: 7 Ways We’re Different

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We all know that women have some unique health care concerns. And as if that wasn’t challenge enough, diabetes can add another layer of complication.

Carol Nartker, RDN, LD, CDE, is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Premier Health. She says that when our bodies can’t process glucose, the excess has to go somewhere – and that can mess you up in a whole lot of ways you may not have expected.

Here are a few examples of how diabetes affects women specifically.

1. Premenstrual Complications

“Diabetes tends to be more difficult to control prior to menses,” says Nartker. “This can be very frustrating if you are otherwise doing everything right to control your blood sugar levels.”

Nartker recommends knowing your menstrual cycles well, and adjusting your meal planning and exercise accordingly. And while you should always be attentive to blood glucose monitoring, she recommends keeping an especially close eye on your sugar levels pre-menstruation.

2. Birth Control

Women of child-bearing age with diabetes must be vigilant about contraception. “An unplanned pregnancy with diabetes is scary, because of the risk of birth defects,” says Nartker. “You want to have reliable birth control and optimal blood sugar control prior to conception.”

“Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women with diabetes.”

Women should also be aware that birth control pills can raise blood glucose levels, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). Also, using them for longer than a year or two may also increase your risk of complications that stem from diabetes, such as eye or kidney disease and stroke.

3. Gynecologic Health

If blood sugar is uncontrolled, it doesn’t just show up in your blood, Nartker says. It shows up in bodily secretions, making the risk of recurrent yeast infections and urinary tract infections (UTIs) much higher. In fact, glucose creates the perfect environment for yeast and bacteria to grow, according to the ADA.

4. Menopause

Changes in hormone levels as a result of menopause may cause blood glucose to go out of control, says the ADA. Women with diabetes are also more likely to develop premature menopause. Weight gain that seems to creep on during menopause can exacerbate the risk of diabetes.

5. Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are common in women with diabetes, Nartker says, especially young women with type 1. “They spend years growing up focused on food and their weight (because of diabetes), and that does something to the psyche,” she explains.

The ADA reports that bulimia is the most common eating disorder in women with type 1 diabetes, while binge eating is more common among women with type 2. Some find diabetes makes it easier to justify or hide the eating disorder. Because complications from both diabetes and eating disorders can be serious or even fatal, medical and psychological intervention is essential.

6. Cardiovascular Disease

“This cannot be underplayed,” emphasizes Nartker. “Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women with diabetes.” 

The ADA points to these grim statistics as proof:Women and Diabetes 7 Ways We're Different - In Content

  • Women with diabetes are twice as likely to have a second heart attack and four times more likely to have heart failure than women without diabetes.
  • Many women with type 2 already have heart disease when they are diagnosed or have many of the risk factors, including high lipid levels, high blood pressure, excess weight around the abdomen, and problems with blood vessel function.
  • Women with type 1 diabetes can develop heart disease when they are young.

To protect yourself, the ADA recommends that you don’t smoke, control your weight, exercise, eat a healthy diet, monitor your blood pressure, and eat a low-fat diet.

7. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

PCOS is the most common cause of female infertility. It results when immature follicles (connected to a woman’s ovaries) bunch together to form large cysts and don’t release matured eggs.

No one knows the exact cause of PCOS, but many women with PCOS also have diabetes, reports the ADA. Researchers are looking for a link between PCOS and the body’s ability to produce insulin

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