The risk of developing diabetes is higher for people who:
- Are overweight or obese
- Have high blood pressure
- Are do not lead active lives
- Have high levels of fats called triglycerides, low levels of “good” cholesterol, or both
- Are a member of a high-risk race or ethnicity
- Have a history of high blood sugar
- Have a first-degree relative with diabetes
- Have conditions that are associated with the body not using insulin effectively (insulin resistance)
Women and Diabetes
One condition that is unique to women and linked to the body not using insulin effectively (insulin resistance) is polycystic ovarian syndrome. In this condition, the ovaries become enlarged and are unable to release eggs properly. It is estimated that around one third of women with diabetes do not know that they have the condition.
Other unique risk factors include a history of gestational diabetes or having given birth to a baby weighing over nine pounds.
It is recommended that screening for adults of both genders be done in those over the age of 45 who are overweight or obese and who have one of the risk factors listed above.
On the other hand, men are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than women. The exact reasons why are unclear, however.
One possible reason could be that men tend to carry their weight in the belly area more often than women, which can increase insulin resistance.
Men are also more likely than women to develop heart disease as a result of their diabetes. The risks become relatively similar between the sexes once women reach menopause.
Complications of Diabetes for Women
When compared to women without diabetes, women with diabetes have a significantly higher risk of heart and blood vessel disease. They also have a higher risk of a stroke as well as death from these diseases.
Diabetes often leads to other problems in women such as increased vaginal yeast infections, decreased sex drive, less vaginal lubrication, and lowered sexual arousal.
Diseases of the heart and blood vessels are key complications that result from diabetes. Over time, high blood sugar levels cause damage to blood vessels and nerves.
High blood sugar levels lead to inflammation in blood vessels which gradually causes vessels to become stiffer. When this happens, blood does not flow through them as well as before.
Impaired blood flow to the various parts of the body can lead to several further problems such as:
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Eye disease
- Dental disease
- Diabetes can also damage nerves in the body, which can lead to many complications. Nerve damage and circulation issues can cause problems in the extremities. If severe, these issues may lead to amputations.
The condition also leads to an increased risk of getting other diseases, problems during pregnancy, loss of mobility with aging, and depression.
What is Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a temporary condition that occurs in some women during pregnancy and increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. Gestational diabetes may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes in later life.
Often, there are no symptoms for gestational diabetes. This makes it important for women to be tested during pregnancy. Any pregnant woman can develop gestational diabetes, but some are at greater risk than others. Women are more likely to get gestational diabetes if:
- They are overweight before becoming pregnant
- They have blood sugar levels that are high but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes – this condition is called prediabetes
- They have a family history of diabetes
- They are a non-Caucasian minority. For reasons that aren’t well understood, women who are black, Hispanic, American Indian or Asian all have increased risk for gestational diabetes
- They have had gestational diabetes in the past
- They have delivered a very large baby (more than 9 pounds) or had an unexplained stillbirth in the past
How Diabetes May Affect or Be Affected by Pregnancy and Menopause
Both pregnancy and the menopause can be affected by diabetes.
Women who have diabetes before becoming pregnant have various challenges to make sure they have a safe and healthy pregnancy.
It is important to keep blood sugar levels under control before getting pregnant. High blood sugar levels can harm the fetus and cause birth defects. This is especially true during the early stages of development, when women may not even know they are pregnant.
Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes during pregnancy increase the risk of complications. Pregnant women should work closely with their healthcare team to discuss meals, a safe exercise plan, and how often to test blood sugar. Importantly, women should find out if their medications need to change during pregnancy.
Menopause and the years leading up to it cause a variety of changes in a woman’s body that can affect her diabetes.
- Hormonal changes affect how cells respond to insulin, a hormone that controls blood sugar levels. Blood sugar levels may become less predictable and should be monitored more often.
- The lower levels of the female hormone estrogen that result from menopause can lead to more urinary tract and vaginal infections in women with diabetes.
- Many women experience weight gain during menopause. Women with diabetes may need to change their insulin doses or oral diabetes medications to adapt to these changes.
- Sleep problems are common with menopause which can make managing blood sugar levels more difficult.
- Diabetes can damage nerve cells in the vagina. This often leads to more difficulty in sexual arousal, as well as vaginal dryness.
Symptoms of Diabetes
The most common signs and symptoms of high blood sugar levels include the following:
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Extreme tiredness
- Increased hunger
- Unexplained weight loss, even when eating more
- Extreme lack of energy
- Blurred vision
- Frequent or recurring infections, such as gum, skin, or vaginal infections
- Cuts and bruises that are slow to heal
- Problems with sex
Sexual problems experienced by women with diabetes may include decreased sensitivity, difficulty in becoming aroused, and pain during sex. Men with diabetes may have problems maintaining an erection.
People who have any of these symptoms should see a doctor right away. Early detection and treatment lower the risk of developing complications such as heart disease.
Do Diabetes Symptoms Differ According to Age?
The risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases with age, and the disease becomes more common in people over age 45. As stated above, anyone 45 years of age or older who is overweight or obese and that has at least one other risk factor for diabetes should get tested for diabetes.
Recent studies show that people who develop diabetes earlier in life have more severe diabetes-related medical problems later in life than people who develop the disease once they are older.
This is most likely because it takes many years to develop complications. Good blood sugar control and healthy lifestyle habits can help reduce the risk of complications for everyone with diabetes.
People can develop diabetes at any age. There are several factors that can increase an individual’s risk of developing type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Risk factors for type 1 diabetes:
- A family history of diabetes
- Certain genes can also indicate an increased risk
- Autoimmunity is believed to play a role in development, though the triggers for this remain unknown
Risk factors for type 2 diabetes and pre diabetes:
Polycystic ovary syndrome is a risk factor for diabetes in women.
- Being overweight
- Inactivity – physical activity helps to control body weight, uses up sugar as energy, and makes cells more sensitive to insulin
- Family history of type 2 diabetes
- Certain genetic and cultural heritage backgrounds, including black people, Hispanics, First Nations populations and people of Asian descent
- Blood pressure of 140/90 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or more
- Having low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol, or elevated levels of fats in the blood called triglycerides
- Signs of insulin resistance, including polycystic ovarian disease
Special risk factors for women include:
- A history of gestational diabetes during a past pregnancy
- Giving birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds (4 kilograms)
- A history of polycystic ovary syndrome
Blood tests ordered by a doctor can confirm whether or not someone has diabetes. If their blood sugar is unusually high and they have several classic symptoms, their doctor may order only one test. Often, tests are carried out on two different days to confirm the diagnosis.