Author – Dr Aashish Reddy B, Consultant Endocrinologist, Yashoda Hospital, Secunderabad
Millions of individuals throughout the world have diabetes, a chronic illness. From hormonal changes to pregnancy-related complications, the impact of this condition on females goes beyond just managing blood sugar levels. Though it can affect anyone, women face unique symptoms and risks related to diabetes that require special attention.
Research shows that when compared to men, women with diabetes experience:
- 30% greater risk of death from cardiovascular diseases
- 58% increase in the risk of death from coronary heart disease
- 13% more likelihood of death from all causes¹
Symptoms of diabetes in women
Women with diabetes may experience symptoms similar to those seen in men, such as increased thirst and frequent urination. However, unusual symptoms are also more commonly seen in women.
One of the commonest symptoms of diabetes in women is vaginal yeast infections. High blood sugar levels can create an ideal environment for yeast growth, leading to itching, burning, and discharge.
Urinary tract infection (UTIs) is another symptom of diabetes in women. Elevated blood sugar levels can facilitate bacterial growth in the urinary system, which can cause fever and frequent and painful urination.
Hormonal changes during menstruation and menopause can also affect blood sugar levels in women with diabetes, leading to mood swings, fatigue, and changes in appetite.
Women with diabetes have more chances of experiencing complications like heart disease, stroke, sexual dysfunction, and blindness; this is likely because diabetes affects small blood vessels throughout the body, and women’s bodies are more susceptible to these effects.
Finally, pregnant women with diabetes face unique risks, such as a higher risk for pre-eclampsia. It can lead to serious complications for both mother and child, so pregnant women with diabetes must be closely monitored.
Identifying and treating diabetes in women
Diagnosing diabetes in women requires careful consideration of its unique symptoms and risks. Women with a family history of diabetes, who are overweight, or who have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) are at a higher risk of developing the disease.
Diagnosis typically involves a blood test to measure blood sugar levels. Women with symptoms of diabetes or risk factors for the disease should be screened regularly to catch the disease early and prevent complications.
Treatment of diabetes in women typically involves lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, and medication to control blood sugar levels. The efforts can be supplemented by maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding sugary and processed foods, and engaging in regular physical activity.
Also, they should have regular eye exams to monitor for diabetic retinopathy and take steps to manage their cardiovascular risk, such as quitting smoking and controlling high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
For women who become pregnant, managing diabetes is especially important. Women with pre-existing diabetes should work closely with their doctors to control their blood sugar levels during pregnancy and reduce the risk of complications.
Diabetes can manifest differently in women. Identifying and treating the specific symptoms and risks that women with diabetes face may lead to a better quality of life.
- Wang, Y., O’Neil, A., Jiao, Y., Wang, L., Huang, J., Lan, Y., Zhu, Y., & Yu, C. (2019). Sex differences in the association between diabetes and risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all-cause and cause-specific mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of 5,162,654 participants. BMC Medicine, 17(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-019-1355-0