Signs of Diabetes in Women
When you hear someone say diabetes, blood sugar and insulin may immediately come to mind. Those with diabetes have high blood sugar levels caused by the body’s inability to make or process insulin correctly.
Insulin, the hormone produced in the pancreas, allows glucose from food to get into the body’s cells giving the body energy. Problems occur when the glucose remains in the blood, building up. Essentially, this happens when the body does not produce enough insulin or use insulin correctly, leading to diabetes or prediabetes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 37.3 million people in the U.S. live with diabetes. Current numbers estimate 28.7 million Americans are diagnosed with the condition, while 8.5 million live with the disease undiagnosed.
You may be surprised to learn 1 in 9 adult women in the U.S. has diabetes. Diabetes affects women differently than men as it increases the risk of heart disease by four times in women. Another surprising fact is that women are at high risk for complications due to diabetes, including blindness, kidney disease and depression. Women should be mindful of the signs and symptoms of diabetes to help diagnose the disease and control it.
Common signs and symptoms of diabetes in women
- Extreme thirst and frequent urination. Extreme thirst is experienced due to too much glucose in the blood leading to higher blood sugar levels. These high levels of sugar cause the kidneys to work harder to filter out the extra sugar which results in frequent urination. As the body works to get rid of the excess sugar, water is pulled from tissue throughout the body, depleting it of fluids which causes the feeling of extreme thirst. When blood sugar levels are controlled, extreme thirst and frequent urination subside.
- Feeling tired. Fatigue indicates diabetes because it may be caused by uncontrolled blood sugar or cells not receiving enough glucose, causing lower energy levels.
- Blurry vision. Usually the first warning sign of diabetes, blurry vision may result from glucose levels being too high or too low and not in the proper range. Blurry vision will often stabilize with controlled sugar, unless the underlying cause is something more severe
- Hungrier than normal. People with diabetes may feel hungry even though they are eating normally because glucose builds up in the blood rather than entering muscle and feeding their body’s cells.
- Unexpected weight loss. Weight loss may happen when glucose builds up in the blood instead of feeding the body’s cells, signaling to the body that it’s starving, which leads to burning fat and muscle to create energy.
- Dry skin and itchy skin. High blood sugar can cause dry skin or itchy in those with diabetes.
- Urinary tract infections (UTI), vaginal thrush, vaginal yeast infections. Women may experience soreness, itching, vaginal discharge, pain with vaginal thrust and yeast infections. Signs of a UTI include painful urination, burning sensation, cloudy urine or blood in the urine. If not treated, a UTI may cause a kidney infection.
- Diabetic neuropathy. Those with diabetes may experience a tingling sensation in the hands and feet known as diabetic neuropathy or damaged nerves. Diabetic neuropathy can also cause a loss of feeling in different body parts, including legs, feet, toes, hands and arms. Long-term high blood sugar levels can cause diabetic neuropathy.
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a hormone imbalance and metabolic dysfunction. According to the CDC, more than half of women with PCOS develop diabetes by 40. Women with PCOS can produce insulin, but their bodies do not use it properly, leading to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. PCOS also causes higher levels of male hormones.
There are three different types of diabetes. Though researchers are unsure of the exact cause, some commonly known risk factors are associated with each type.
1. Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that develops as the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Those with type 1 diabetes take insulin daily because their body doesn’t produce insulin. Symptoms are known to be more severe with type 1 and develop suddenly. Type 1 diabetes typically develops during childhood.
Risk factors for type 1 diabetes include family history as you are more likely to be at risk if you have a parent or sibling with type 1 diabetes. Location is also a risk factor as type 1 diabetes tends to be more common in colder climates. Some viral infections, including the stomach flu, mumps and the coxsackie virus B, are risk factors.
2. Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes develops slowly over time, affecting people of all ages. This is the most common type of diabetes, and those affected may not initially have signs or symptoms. With type 2 diabetes, the body does not produce enough insulin or cannot use its insulin properly, resulting is rising blood glucose levels.
Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include obesity or being overweight, being 45 years old or older, family history, smoking, having diabetes during pregnancy, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, lack of physical activity, PCOS and a personal history of heart disease or stroke. Race and ethnicity are risk factors for type 2 diabetes. African Americans, American Indian/Alaska Natives, Asian-Americans and Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders are more at risk due to multiple factors such as biological, clinical and social factors. Obesity, hyperglycemia, genetics and healthcare disparities are examples of contributing factors.
3. Gestational Diabetes
Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy and may cause health problems for the mother and baby. To avoid health problems during pregnancy, it is important to keep sugar levels under control. Usually, once the baby is born, the mother is no longer has diabetic. But it is important to note having gestational diabetes puts mothers at risk for type 2 diabetes post-pregnancy.
Similar to type 1 and type 2 risk factors, certain races or ethnicities, being overweight or obese, not physically active, PCOS and having a family history of diabetes are risk factors for gestational diabetes. Having gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy and giving birth to a baby weighing more than nine pounds are also considered risk factors.
In 2019, Diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death, and women are 40% more likely to die of the disease. While there is no cure for diabetes, it can be managed. It is important to make small lifestyle changes to control sugar and prevent diabetes. Try to exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight and consume a diet focused on fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Avoid smoking cigarettes and, most importantly, monitor your blood sugar.
If you are concerned you may be at risk for diabetes, please contact your physician.
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