Diabetes and Women

How is Diabetes different for women than it is for men?

Did you know that diabetes increases the risk of heart disease by four times in women compared to only two times in men? Women also have more severe outcomes after a heart attack and are at higher risk of other diabetes-related complications including kidney disease, blindness and depression.

Let’s start with the basics. There are two types of diabetes: Type I (juvenile or insulin-dependent diabetes) and the most common form, Type 2 (called adult-onset or sugar diabetes and once known as non-insulin dependent diabetes). The most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 11.7 million women in the United States were diagnosed with diabetes compared to a slightly lower number in men.

Not only is diabetes different for women, it’s different among women. Here’s how…African American, Hispanic/Latina, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Asian/Pacific Islander women are more likely to have diabetes than white or Caucasian women.

What Causes Type 2 Diabetes and What are the Symptoms in Women?

Type 2 diabetes is usually caused by poor diet and lifestyle and occurs first, when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, a hormone that regulates the movement of sugar into the cells, and second, when the cells respond poorly to insulin and take in less sugar. Consuming too much sugar and refined carbohydrates, lack of exercise and being overweight can contribute to having an increased risk. Here in the South, this is of concern since there is an increased number of people that are overweight or obese. Our rich, Southern cuisine is delicious, however, let’s keep in mind that it is to be consumed in moderation.

Many symptoms of diabetes in women are the same as those in men:

  • Excessive thirst and hunger
  • Frequent urination
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Nausea
  • Blurred vision
  • Irritability
  • Slow-healing wounds
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
  • Breath odor that is fruity, sweet or acetone
  • Darkening of the skin in areas of body creases

There are also symptoms and complications that are unique to women and can be more difficult to diagnose:

  • Vaginal yeast infections, include, vaginal discharge, itching and pain.
  • Painful or less enjoyable sexual intercourse
  • Irregular menstrual periods
  • Oral thrush, include, white patches in the mouth, redness and soreness and trouble eating or swallowing.
  • Decrease in sex drive
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOCS). This is a common cause of female infertility and insulin resistance and can cause irregular periods, acne, thinning scalp, excess hair growth on the face and body.
  • Urinary tract infections (UTI). This occurs when bacteria enter the urinary tract, including the urethra, ureters, kidneys and bladder. This occurs more often with diabetics because the sugar in the urine presents a breeding ground for bacterial growth.

How Do I Support My Diabetic Spouse or Partner?

Keep in mind that understanding your spouse or partner’s symptoms is key. Here are several ways to help:

  • Take a genuine interest in learning about your partner’s diabetes
  • Make helpful suggestions such as healthy meal plans
  • Discuss your feelings
  • Discuss any problems with your sex life openly and honestly together
  • Be prepared for mood changes
  • Don’t encourage or support bad eating habits or behaviors, such as lying to your spouse or partner’s doctor about his/her poor food choices

Diabetes Self-Management Education and Support (DSMES) services can help people with diabetes learn how to take the best care of themselves by providing a health care team who will teach the person with diabetes how to stay healthy and how to make what is learned a regular part of a healthy lifestyle. Your spouse or partner’s doctor may be able to shed light on additional resources for you.

Sometimes, diabetes can be controlled with a doctor recommended heathy lifestyle change that includes an appropriate diet (complete balance of whole grains, fruits and vegetables and small amounts of sugar and refined carbohydrates) and exercise. It is best to let the doctor make the right suggestion based on symptoms and the appropriate exam.

Remember that being proactive is vital!

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