How Diabetes Affects Women
There are about 9.1 million women in the United States who have diabetes. It's important to manage your diabetes no matter what your gender is, but there are certain ways that diabetes affects women differently. Here are some of the things you should be especially aware of if you're a woman who has diabetes or if you have a female loved one who has the condition.
Heart Disease: Having diabetes increases the risk of heart disease for both men and women, but for women, the risk is higher. Research has shown that women with diabetes have three times the risk of developing heart disease, while men have a 1.7 higher risk. For some reason, women with diabetes are more likely than men to experience high blood pressure, a decrease in HDL cholesterol (the "good" kind) and an increase in abdominal fat.
Diabetic ketoacidosis: This is often called "diabetic coma." Its occurs when ketones build up in the blood. Ketones are a kind of acid. A lack of insulin can cause this buildup of ketones, which can lead to coma (passing out) and even death. Diabetic ketoacidosis is 50 percent more common in women. It's a sign that your diabetes is out of control.
Peripheral vascular disease: This condition, also called PVD, is the result of reduced flow of blood and oxygen to tissues in the feet and legs. Women who have diabetes are 7.6 times more likely to have PVD than women who don't have diabetes. The main symptom of PVD is pain in the thigh, calf or buttock during exercise.
Pregnancy: If you already have diabetes and you are pregnant, it's extremely important to have routine prenatal care. In fact, women who have diabetes should make every attempt to have their diabetes well controlled before they become pregnant. Diabetes makes pregnancy riskier, and uncontrolled diabetes even more so. For example, women with diabetes are
- More likely to have a baby born with congenital malformations
- 5 times as likely to develop toxemia, a serious disorder that causes high blood pressure, protein in the urine, edema (swelling in the tissue because of excess fluid), headache and, in same cases, death of the baby
- 3 to 4 times more likely to have a Cesarean section birth
- Twice as likely to have a newborn die within 28 days
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Birth control: Birth control pills can sometimes
make your blood sugar levels rise, which in turn makes your diabetes harder
to manage. And the intrauterine device, or IUD, which increases the risk of
infection for any woman, increases that risk even further for women who have
Menopause: Going through menopause causes changes in hormone levels, which can cause changes in blood sugar. Diabetes may become more difficult to manage at this time, so it's important to monitor blood sugar closely.
Yeast infections: Excess sugar in your body can cause yeast to grow, which is why women who have diabetes are more susceptible to recurrent yeast infections.
The best way to keep a close watch on your condition is to learn as much about diabetes as you can and to have a healthcare team you trust. Doing everything you can to manage your risk factors is also essential. That means testing your blood sugar as often as you and your healthcare team have determined you should, eating the right foods in the right amounts and getting regular exercise. And, if you smoke, it's really important to quit.
The American Diabetes Association; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; The Food and Drug Administration; The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders