Diabetes is a chronic disease that damages blood sugar regulation in our body. While both women and men can develop diabetes, some symptoms are more likely to affect women.
According to the WHO (World Health Organization), India has approximately 62 million people living with the diseases which is projected to have around 70 million diabetics by 2025.
Secondary studies have shown that there has been a rise in incidence of diabetes among women in India, as more than one in 10 women aged 35 to 49 years suffer with diabetes.
Compared to diabetic men, women with diabetes have:
- A greater risk for heart disease, the most common complication of diabetes
- Lower survival rates and poorer quality of life after a heart attack
- A greater risk for blindness
- A greater risk for depression (which affects twice as many women compared to men). Depression also raises the risk for diabetes in women
Unfortunately, nearly one-third of diabetic women do not know they have the disease. And, they don’t receive proper treatment for controlling the complications of diabetes.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a disease caused by higher levels of glucose (blood sugar) in our body. This can occur when the body does not produce insulin (a hormone made in the pancreas) or does not use insulin appropriately.
Insulin helps the glucose from food get into the cells of your body for energy. If your body does not produce enough insulin, or your body does not use the insulin appropriately, the glucose stays and builds up in your blood.
There are three types of diabetes:
- Type-1 Diabetes: It is a chronic condition where the specialized cells in the pancreas produces little or no insulin. There could be both genetic and environmental reasons. Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age however, it often occurs in children or young adults.
- Type-2 Diabetes: Type-2 Diabetes, known as adult-onset diabetes, is the most common type and is more common in people who are older than 40. This type of diabetes occurs when your body cannot use insulin efficiently. This occurs due to some genetic reason, lack of exercise or even due to overweight.
- Gestational diabetes: This occurs in women during pregnancy and this may resolve after the baby is delivered.
Whatever may be the type of diabetes, it increases sugar levels in your blood and can lead to serious health problems.
Symptoms of Diabetes in Women
While women may experience many of the same symptoms as a man with diabetes may experience, some symptoms are unique to women. Understanding more about these symptoms may help you identify diabetes and get early treatment. Symptoms unique to a woman include:
1. Vaginal Yeast Infections and Oral Yeast Infections, and Vaginal Thrush:
An infection caused by overgrowth of yeast (Candida fungus) can result in oral yeast infections, vaginal yeast infections and vaginal thrush. The growth of the fungus is triggered by high lev (common in women) when developed in the vaginal area may include:
- Vaginal discharge
- Painful sex
- Burning & irritation of the vulva/vagina
In oral yeast infections, a white coating on the tongue and inside the mouth is often seen.
2. Female Sexual Dysfunction
Diabetic neuropathy happens when high blood glucose damages the nerve fibres. This may trigger loss of feeling and tingling in different parts of the body.
This condition can also affect sensation in the vagina area lower a woman’s sex drive
3. Urinary Tract Infections (UTI):
The threat of a UTI is higher in women with diabetes. UTIs are caused when bacteria enter your urinary tract. These infections can cause:
- Cloudy or blood tinged urine
- Burning sensation
- Painful urination
There is a risk of kidney infection, if these symptoms are not treated on time
UTIs are common in diabetic women mostly because of the immune system getting compromised owing to hyperglycemia.
4. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
Signs of PCOS include:
- Irregular periods
- Weight gain
PCOS may also lead to a type of insulin resistance that results in elevated blood sugar levels and rises the risk of developing diabetes.
Other Symptoms for Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes in Women:
Type 1 diabetes symptoms are usually more severe and develop rapidly when compared to Type 2 Diabetes . Type 2 diabetes may not show symptoms rapidly but they develop over time and it is difficult to notice initially . Common symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes are:
- Frequent urination
- Utmost hunger
- Increased thirst
- Vaginal dryness (It is the most common sexual issue for women who have diabetes. That affect lubrication and make sex uncomfortable for women)
- Lack of interest or desire for sex
- Weight gain/loss
- Blurred vision
- Reduced sensations in hands or feet
- Decreased healing nature of wounds
- Skin infections and patches on the skin
Pregnancy and Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes
If you are wondering whether pregnancy in women with diabetes is safe, the good news is that women with type 1 or type 2 diabetes can have a healthy pregnancy. However, it is important for women with diabetes to manage their condition before, during and after pregnancy to avoid severe complications.
If you are diabetic and are pregnant or planning to get pregnant, it is best to get your blood glucose levels as close as possible to your target range before getting pregnant. Find out your target range from your doctor as your target ranges when pregnant may vary from the ranges when you are not pregnant.
Talk to your doctor on the best ways to manage both your as well as your baby’s health. Track your blood glucose levels before and during your pregnancy.
Ketones and blood glucose travel through the placenta to your baby when you are pregnant. Like you, babies also need energy from glucose. However, newborns are at risk for birth defects if your glucose levels are too high. Transfer of high blood sugar to unborn babies puts them at a greater risk for conditions that may include:
- Developmental delays
- Cognitive impairments
- High blood pressure
Diabetes Risk Factors for Women
Most of the risk factors for diabetes are the same for both men and women. These include :
- Giving birth to a child weighing more than 9 pounds (lb)
- History of gestational diabetes during a past pregnancy
- Family history of diabetes
- History of PCOS
- Having high blood pressure
- Having high cholesterol
- Getting below 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a week (such as walking),
Anyone with the above risk factors should talk their doctor and get themselves screened for diabetes.
Treatment of Diabetes
Diabetes can be treated with medications. Some of these drugs are pills and some of them are injections. The drugs or medications that are prescribed by doctors depend upon the type of diabetes you have.
- Type 1 diabetes: To treat this type of diabetes you need to take insulin through shots or an insulin pump. Insulin cannot be taken as a pill.
- Type 2 diabetes: Maintaining blood sugar level is the goal and this can be done through oral anti diabetic medications or insulin .
- Gestational diabetes: To treat this type of diabetes, you need to lower your blood sugar levels using insulin and this is also safe for the growing baby.
Prevention for Diabetes:
You can prevent or even reverse Type 2 diabetes by making some changes to your lifestyle . Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented as it is considered to be due to autoimmune and genetic factors .
Some of the lifestyle oriented preventive methods are:
- Regular exercise such as cycling, walking or jogging
- Eating smaller portions
- Avoiding junk food
- Eating fruits and vegetables
- Decreasing your body weight
- Saying no sugary and processed food
- Reducing stress
Before diagnosis of diabetes, there is a period when blood sugar levels are high but not enough higher to be diagnosed as diabetes. This is called prediabetes.
It is estimated that up to 70 per cent people with prediabetes later develop type 2 diabetes. Fortunately, progressing from prediabetes to diabetes is not unavoidable . Although there are some factors you cannot change (such as your age, genes, or past behaviors) there are many actions that can be taken to reduce the risk of diabetes.