Find out how diabetes affects women and how to recognize symptoms and warning signs to help you stay healthy.
An Informative Guide to Diabetes in Women: Understanding the Disease
Diabetes is a common disease affecting people of all ages. There are several types of diabetes, with type 2 being the most common worldwide, affecting about 462 million people. For women, the disease also has strong connections to pregnancy, childbirth, and overall reproductive health.
Although type 1 and type 2 diabetes are not curable, specialized medical treatment, lifestyle changes, and informative education make it possible to manage and live with the disease properly. In addition, regular CGM (continuous glucose monitoring) can aid in the management and prevention of severe and life-treating side effects.
What Exactly is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic illness where the body is either unable to produce enough insulin needed to function or cannot correctly use the insulin available to it. Insulin is a vital hormone used to help the body digest food for growth and energy.
Although type 1 and type 2 are caused by different factors and require different treatments, they both involve an inherited predisposition to the disease. While type 1 can affect anyone in any state of health, you are more likely to develop type 2 if you are a higher weight, avoid exercise, are older than 45, or have family members with the disease already.
How Does It Develop?
Most of the food we eat is broken down into a simple sugar called glucose, which is the body’s primary energy source. It passes into the bloodstream and then into cells, which use it for this purpose. However, most cells require insulin to “unlock” them, allowing glucose to enter the structure.
Typically, your pancreas will produce insulin through beta cells. In healthy individuals, eating signals the pancreas to create the right amount of insulin to allow the cell to absorb the glucose. When this process starts to fail or completely fails, it leads to diabetes.
Sufferers either cannot produce insulin on their own, or their bodies stop responding to the hormone. As a result, the build-up of glucose overflows into the urine and gets expelled, causing the body to lose its energy source.
More info for women: Type 1 vs. Type 2 vs. Gestational Diabetes
There are several types of diabetes, which can be broken down into three main categories for women. They are:
In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas makes little to no insulin because the beta cells needed for the process have been destroyed. Classified as an auto-immune disease, type 1 only affects 5-10% of all diabetes cases.
Furthermore, it primarily develops during childhood, although adult diagnoses are not impossible. While scientists cannot give an exact reason for the body attacking the beta cells, many believe that genetics and environmental factors trigger the body’s response.
For women diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, the body struggles to absorb the insulin the pancreas produces and becomes insulin resistant. Over time, the pancreas can stop making insulin entirely and will eventually need an artificial replacement.
This type mainly affects higher-weight individuals above the age of 30, although children in poor physical health are at risk too. Inactivity, poor diets, and genetics also largely influence your ability to develop this disease.
Gestational diabetes is one of the most common complications suffered during pregnancy, and if left uncontrolled, it can become a severe issue for both mother and baby. During pregnancy, hormones produced by the placenta cause the mother to develop a resistance to the insulin hormone.
This type occurs when the resistance exceeds the body’s ability to make extra insulin to overcome it. For most women, the condition disappears soon after giving birth. However, women who suffer from it are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later. Screening for gestational diabetes is standard for women between 24- and 28-weeks pregnant.
Like most diseases, the key to getting on top of diabetes and on the right track with managing it is to catch it early on. Awareness of the signs and symptoms to look out for can make a massive difference in how quickly you seek medical care and start a treatment program.
If you constantly need the bathroom, can never quite quench your thirst, and your vision is getting increasingly blurry, it might be time to make a doctor’s appointment. Furthermore, cuts and bruises taking longer to heal, your hands and feet regularly losing proper circulation, unexplained weight loss, constant fatigue, and skin with strange dark blotches or excessive itchiness are all big warning signs you may be on the road to a diagnosis.
Related read: 4 common health issues in women
Risks for women with diabetes
In general, women developing diabetes can produce more serious complications. Several factors may account for this, from differences in sugar intake to dietary patterns, make explain the different risks for women. Among the complications are stroke, depression, kidney disease, and heart disease.
There is research to suggest that women are more proactive in managing type 2 diabetes. That may mean that biology increases the prevalence of complications. For example, when diabetes is not controlled, it may hamper how the body responds to estrogen.
Furthermore, type 2 diabetes may affect the sexual health of women, including reducing sex drive. It can also aggravate existing issues like chronic UTIs, PCOS, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol.
Although diabetes is incurable, there are productive steps that can be taken to manage symptoms properly and the condition itself. Type 1 requires medical care in the form of CGM systems and insulin injections for the rest of one’s life, as instructed by your doctor. In addition, your doctor is likely to suggest proper diet and adequate exercise to minimize side effects and allow the body to perform at its highest level.
For type 2 sufferers, your doctor will likely encourage a complete lifestyle overhaul to revert much of the damage diabetes has caused and prevent it from worsening over time. Weight loss, increased activity, and blood sugar monitoring are all probably going to be part of the treatment plan from your medical professional, with the goal to lessen your chances of serious complications.
This article is for informative purposes only and is not intended to take the place of medical advice. Always follow your doctor’s advice and never make changes without first getting the approval of this medical professional.