Diabetes symptoms in women can present themselves differently because of hormones and other factors.
While gender does not have to define everything about you, it can impact the way your body reacts to medicine, some treatments, and certain conditions. It isn't often talked about, but diabetes symptoms in women can be very different from symptoms in men.
Diabetes causes many unique challenges for women, in part because sex hormones play a role in the way the condition affects the body. As different female hormones ebb and flow during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause, your blood sugar levels can react (sometimes in unpredictable ways). But, gaining control is doable—and critical for your long-term health.
Find out which health issues pose a special risk for women with diabetes and talk with your doctor about any questions or concerns that come up for you. A take-charge approach is your most valuable medical supply in fighting diabetes.
Both women and men living with diabetes are at increased risk of heart disease from damage to nerves and blood vessels caused by high blood sugar. Women with diabetes are at greater risk of heart disease than men, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Women's Health, possibly because it can be harder for women to achieve good diabetes control. Women are also less likely to receive aggressive treatment for heart disease risk factors.
More and more, scientists are turning their attention to the unique ways that diabetes affects women, but this wasn't always the case. The majority of research on the topic was directed at men until very recently. The upswing in woman-centric research is good news for those diagnosed with diabetes because access to information and new advances in treatments will only increase over the coming years.
In addition to staying up-to-date on all the new research, there's a lot you can do to take charge of your heart disease risk factors:
Don't smoke. If you already smoke, ask your doctor or Rite Aid Pharmacist for help making a plan that includes medications. Head to your local pharmacy for more information about Rite Aid's free Quit for You program—it will help you stay on track and save on the tools you need to quit smoking.
Don't give up. Achieving good blood sugar control may take patience and time, but stick with it. This is the most important step you can take to protect your health. Eat right, exercise, and follow your doctor's recommendations for testing your blood sugar and taking medications.
Get to and maintain a healthy weight. If you need to lose weight, work with your doctor to find a plan that helps you drop pounds steadily and healthfully.
Know your family history and share it with your doctor. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, you're at increased risk of heart disease if your father or brother was diagnosed before age 55, or if your mother or sister was diagnosed before age 65.
Speak up. Talk with your doctor if you're not able to get good diabetes control or you have new symptoms.
Depression affects twice as many women as men, overall, and is among the more common diabetes symptoms in women. The stress of living with diabetes may play a part, especially if you're struggling to get control.
Symptoms that can develop from poor diabetes control—exhaustion, anxiety, and poor sleep—may mimic depression, too. Medical treatments can help, including antidepressant medications and therapy.
Tell your doctor if you have three or more of the following symptoms, or even if you've had just one for two or more weeks:
Loss of pleasure in things you once enjoyed.
Difficulty sleeping or new problems with sleep.
Changes in your appetite or energy level.
New feelings of anxiety, including more frequent nervousness or guilt.
On top of the regular challenges female hormones can pose to the body, different kinds of diabetes medications can have different effects on your health. For example, it is possible that certain types of birth control pills can affect your blood sugar levels, and some diabetes medications may change your cycle. Be sure to ask your doctor about the medications you're currently taking and how they might interact with each other.
Diabetes can have other undesired effects, such as making sex less pleasurable or difficult. Common changes to look out for include:
Not enough vaginal lubrication to make sex comfortable.
Reduced sensation during sex.
Frequent yeast infections, which cause symptoms such as vaginal itching and an abnormal vaginal discharge.
Frequent urinary tract infections, which cause pain with urination, a burning sensation, and cloudy or bloody urine.
Luckily, a lot of these symptoms are easily treatable and can be managed by being proactive. Good blood sugar control can improve discomfort, and medications can treat infections. Talk with your doctor if you've noticed these changes and talk with your partner, as well.
Good blood sugar control is the key to living well with diabetes, for everyone affected by this condition. For women, a close second is to use your voice. If it's hard for you, imagine you're speaking for a loved one who's asked you to help them with medical concerns. If their health outcomes would be better with you as an advocate, why not do the same for yourself?
By Nancy Burtis Boudreau
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke
American Diabetes Association, Women and Diabetes: Frequently Asked Questions
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Who is at Risk for Diabetic Heart Disease?
U.S. Dept of Health & Human Services Office on Women's Health, Diabetes
American Diabetes Association, Depression
WebMD, Women, Sex, and Diabetes
Mayo Clinic News Network, Women's Wellness: Sex and Gender in Medical Research
American Diabetes Association, Coronary Heart Disease
Mayo Clinic, Depression in Women: Understanding the Gender Gap