Diabetes is a group of metabolic diseases in which a person has high blood sugar due to problems processing or producing insulin. Diabetes can affect people of any age, race, or sex. It can affect people with any lifestyle.
Between 1971 and 2000, the death rate for men with diabetes fell, according to a study in Annals of Internal Medicine. This decrease reflects advances in diabetes treatment.
But the study also indicates the death rate for women with diabetes didn’t improve. In addition, the difference in death rates between women who had diabetes and those who didn’t more than doubled.
The death rate was higher among women, but there has been a shift in sex distribution of type 2 diabetes showing higher rates in men.
The findings emphasize how diabetes affects women and men differently. The reasons included the following:
- Women often receive less aggressive treatment for cardiovascular risk factors and conditions related to diabetes.
- Some of 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.
The most current reported stats from 2015 found that in the United States 11.7 million women and 11.3 million men were diagnosed with diabetes.
Global reports from 2014 by the World Health Organization (WHO) state that there were an estimated 422 million adults living with diabetes, up from 108 million reported in 1980.
If you’re a woman with diabetes, you may experience many of the same symptoms as a man. However, some symptoms are unique to women. Understanding more about these symptoms will help you identify diabetes and get treatment early.
Symptoms unique to women include:
1. Vaginal and oral yeast infections and vaginal thrush
When infection develops in the vaginal area, symptoms include:
Oral yeast infections often cause a white coating on the tongue and inside the mouth. High levels of glucose in the blood trigger the growth of fungus.
2. Urinary infections
The risk of a urinary tract infection (UTI) is higher in women who have diabetes. UTIs develop when bacteria enter the urinary tract. These infections can cause:
- painful urination
- burning sensation
- bloody or cloudy urine
There’s the risk of a kidney infection if these symptoms aren’t treated.
UTIs are common in women with diabetes mostly due to the immune system being compromised because of hyperglycemia.
3. Female sexual dysfunction
This condition may also affect sensation in the vaginal area and lower a woman’s sex drive.
4. Polycystic ovary syndrome
This disorder occurs when a person produces a higher amount of male hormones and is predisposed to getting PCOS. Signs of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) include:
PCOS may also cause a type insulin resistance that results in elevated blood sugar levels and increases the risk of developing diabetes.
Both men and women may experience the following symptoms of undiagnosed diabetes:
- increased thirst and hunger
- frequent urination
- weight loss or gain with 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, fruity, or acetone odor
- reduced feeling in hands or feet
It’s important to keep in mind that many people with type 2 diabetes have no noticeable symptoms.
Some women with diabetes wonder if pregnancy is safe. The good news is you can have a healthy pregnancy after being diagnosed with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. But it’s important to manage your condition before and during pregnancy to avoid complications.
If you’re planning to get pregnant, it’s best to get your blood glucose levels as close to your target range as possible before you get pregnant. Your target ranges when pregnant may be different from the ranges when you aren’t pregnant.
If you have diabetes and you’re pregnant or hoping to become pregnant, talk to your doctor about the best ways to manage your and your baby’s health. For instance, your blood glucose levels and general health need to be tracked before and during your pregnancy.
When you’re pregnant, blood glucose and ketones travel through the placenta to the baby. Babies require energy from glucose like you do. But babies are at risk for birth defects if your glucose levels are too high. Transferring high blood sugar to unborn babies puts them at risk for conditions that include:
The hormones of pregnancy interfere with the way insulin works. This causes the body to make more of it. But for some women, this still isn’t enough insulin, and they develop gestational diabetes.
Gestational diabetes often develops later in pregnancy. In most women, gestational diabetes goes away after pregnancy. If you’ve had gestational diabetes, your risk for type 2 diabetes increases. Your doctor may recommend diabetes and prediabetes testing every few years.
According to the Office on Women’s Health (OWH) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, you are at risk for type 2 diabetes if you:
- are older than 45
- are overweight or obese
- have a family history of diabetes (parent or sibling)
- are African-American, Native American, Native Alaskan, Hispanic, Asian-American, or Native Hawaiian
- have had a baby with a birth weight of more than 9 pounds
- have had gestational diabetes
- have high blood pressure
- have high cholesterol
- exercise less than three times a week
- have other health conditions linked to problems using insulin, such as PCOS
- have a history of heart disease or stroke
At all stages of life, women’s bodies present obstacles for managing diabetes and blood sugar. Challenges may occur because:
- Some birth control pills can increase blood glucose. To maintain a healthy level of blood glucose, ask your doctor about switching to a low-dose birth control pill.
- Glucose in your body can cause yeast infections. This is because glucose speeds the growth of fungus. There are over-the-counter and prescription medications to treat yeast infections. You can potentially avoid yeast infections by maintaining better control of your blood sugar. Take insulin as prescribed, exercise regularly, reduce your carb intake, choose low-glycemic foods, and monitor your blood sugar.
You can take steps to prevent or delay diabetes, avoid complications, and manage symptoms.
There are medications you can take to manage the symptoms and complications of diabetes. Many new classes of medications for diabetes are available, but the most common starting medications include:
- insulin therapy for all people with type 1 diabetes
- metformin (Glucophage), which reduces blood sugar
Lifestyle changes can help manage diabetes. These include:
- exercising and maintaining a healthy weight
- avoiding smoking cigarettes
- eating a diet focused on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- monitoring your blood sugar
Women with diabetes can try a variety of alternative remedies to manage their symptoms. These include:
- taking supplements like chromium or magnesium
- eating more broccoli, buckwheat, sage, peas, and fenugreek seeds
- taking plant supplements
Remember to consult with your doctor before trying any new treatments. Even if they’re natural, they can interfere with current treatments or medications.
A variety of complications are often caused by diabetes. Some of the complications that women with diabetes should know include:
- Eating disorders. Some research suggests that eating disorders are more common in women with diabetes.
- Coronary heart disease. Many women who have type 2 diabetes already have heart disease when diagnosed (even young women).
- Skin conditions. These include bacterial or fungal infections.
- Nerve damage. This can lead to pain, impaired circulation, or loss of feeling in affected limbs.
- Eye damage. This symptom may lead to blindness.
- Foot damage. If not treated promptly, this can result in amputation.
There is no cure for diabetes. Once you’d been diagnosed, you can only manage your symptoms.
A recent study found that women with diabetes are 40 percent more likely to die because of the disease.
The study also found that those with type 1 diabetes have shorter life expectancies than the general population. People with type 1 diabetes may see their life expectancy lowered by 20 years, and those with type 2 diabetes may see it lowered by 10 years.
A variety of medications, lifestyle changes, and alternative remedies can help manage symptoms and improve overall health. Consult your doctor before starting any new treatments, even if you think they’re safe.