Diabetes in Women

In 2020, the World Diabetes Day campaign focuses on promoting the role of health care providers in the prevention and management of diabetes, especially females. Diabetes is a condition that impairs blood sugar regulation in the body. Both men and women can develop diabetes.

Women can suffer from any type of diabetes:

  • Type 1 -complete insulin deficiency, usually develops in early age.
  • Type 2- partial insulin deficiency or insulin resistance, usually develops after 40 years of age.
  • Gestational DM- develops during pregnancy

Risk factors for Diabetes:

The following as risk factors for women to develop type 2 diabetes:

  • a history gestational diabetes during a past pregnancy
  • giving birth to a baby with large weight
  • having a history of PCOS
  • having a family history of diabetes
  • having high blood pressure
  • having high cholesterol
  • Lack of exercise
  • Ethnicity eg. having an African American, American Indian or Asian American background

Effects of diabetes in women

Many of the symptoms of diabetes are common to both men and women, but some features are specific to women.

  • Vaginal thrush – Women with diabetes may be more likely to experience a yeast infection, or thrush, in the vagina.
  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • Women with diabetes have a higher risk of a urinary tract infection(UTI)
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • A higher risk of a UTI or candidiasis and diabetic neuropathy can contribute to a lower sex drive, or libido
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) – There is a higher chance of having PCOS if a person has diabetes. In PCOS, a hormonal imbalance means the ovaries are unable to release eggs properly and this can affect fertility. PCOS is not a symptom of diabetes, but a woman with diabetes is more likely to have it than one who does not have diabetes.

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes is a temporary condition that affects some women during pregnancy.

Pregnancy and Diabetes

Women who have diabetes before pregnancy need to take certain steps to ensure a safe pregnancy. Blood sugar levels: If possible, keeping blood sugar levels under control before pregnancy is vital. High blood sugar levels can harm the fetus and may result in congenital anomalies. This is especially true early in pregnancy, when a person might not yet know they are pregnant.

Diabetes can increase the risk of complications during pregnancy, so a person should work closely with their healthcare team to establish:

  • a safe diet
  • an exercise plan
  • a schedule for testing blood sugar at home
  • the need for other tests and monitoring

Effects of gestational diabetes – Gestational diabetes often resolves after delivery, but a person who experiences it may have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. If gestational diabetes is present, it is important to follow the doctor’s instructions about diet, exercise, and tracking blood sugar levels.

 After pregnancy

When a person has had gestational diabetes during pregnancy, guidelines  recommend the following steps after delivery:

  • screening for type 2 diabetes 6–12 weeks after delivery and every 3 years after that
  • getting back to a healthy weight through regular exercise and a healthful diet
  • breastfeeding the baby, if possible, to give them the right balance of nutrients and to help you burn calories
  • check with a physician about using metformin, a medication, to help prevent type 2 diabetes

Menopause and diabetes

Menopause can worsen diabetes symptoms, but exercise and a healthful diet will help. Hormonal changes alter how cells respond to insulin. Blood sugar levels might become less predictable and require more frequent monitoring. Menopause leads to a drop in estrogen levels as the ovaries stop producing eggs. A person may be more prone to UTIs and vaginal infections at this time if they have diabetes

Symptoms of diabetes:

The most common signs and symptoms of high blood sugar levels include:

  • increased thirst
  • frequent urination
  • extreme tiredness
  • increased hunger
  • unexplained weight loss, even when increasing food intake
  • frequent or recurring infections, such as an infection of the gum, skin, or vagina

Complications of diabetes

Women with diabetes face consequences which are more serious, such as possible heart disease. Therefore, diabetes affects each sex differently and can lead to serious life-altering health complications. The blood flows to all parts of the body, and high blood sugar can cause damage in many areas for both men and women.

Cardiovascular disease

Diseases of the heart and blood vessels are key complications of diabetes. Over time, high blood sugar levels cause damage to blood vessels and nerves.

Prevention of diabetes:

Get smart about risks and diabetes prevention.  With early detection and awareness, you can take steps to prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes by life style changes.

Authored by Dr. Mohammad Shahid Alam, Specialist Internal Medicine

Mediclinic Deira, Mediclinic Al Qusais