When it comes to gender, Type 2 Diabetes is an equal opportunity disease. The major risk factors associated with diabetes – sedentary lifestyle, poor diet, and obesity – are essentially the same for both sexes. By the same token, the challenges of living with diabetes to ward off potential complications such as cardiovascular disease and kidney damage are formidable for both men and women. That being said, it’s a biological fact that if you are a woman with diabetes, you face some additional challenges that diabetic men don’t. Here’s a look at 7 diabetic challenges that are unique to women.
Recurrent yeast infections:
Brought on by biological imbalances, vaginal yeast infections are a fact of life that most women will have to deal with at some point in their lives. But for women with diabetes, especially those whose blood sugars are not well controlled, yeast infections can become a recurring problem. As glucose levels in the blood and tissues become elevated, a natural result is the accelerated growth of yeast within the body. While prescription medications are very effective in the treatment of yeast infections, if glucose control is ignored they will only come back. Studies clearly show that diet and exercise are a diabetic woman’s best defense against recurring yeast infections.
Adverse effects from birth control pills:
With the advent of the “pill” women became the proactive partners in preventing unwanted pregnancies. And today’s BCP’s have come a long way in reducing the dangers of strokes, heart attacks, and blood clots associated with the pills of the past that contained much higher amounts of estrogen and progesterone. However, as recent studies have shown, even low-dose birth control pills can cause dramatic changes in blood glucose levels. Diabetic women should have their blood sugars closely monitored when starting on birth control pills. It should also be noted that long-term use of the pill can lead to high blood pressure, which in diabetic women can increase the risks of eye and kidney problems.
The changes in hormone levels associated with menopause can cause all sorts of problems for diabetic women. Blood glucose levels may fluctuate to the point that maintaining adequate control can be very difficult, which can put women at greater risk for complications. Menopausal weight gain can also mean that doses of insulin or oral medications will need to be adjusted to provide adequate glucose control. Hot flashes that disturb sleep can also wreak havoc on glucose control, causing a higher incidence of urinary tract and vaginal infections.
Side effects from diabetic medications:
One of the newer classes of oral diabetic medications is the TZD’s or thiazolidinediones, which help to reduce resistance to insulin. In women who are no longer ovulating and are premenopausal, TZDs may cause ovulation to resume, which could result in pregnancy. TZDs may also interfere with oral contraceptives, making them less effective.
The hormonal changes associated with pregnancy can send the blood sugars of even the most well controlled female diabetic on a roller coaster ride that could have serious consequences for both mother and baby. Diabetic women who experience morning sickness and have difficulty keeping food down are especially at risk, requiring closer monitoring and oftentimes I.V. fluids to help keep them nourished and their blood sugars under control. On top of that, more and more women who begin pregnancy healthy are contracting gestational diabetes. Even with careful monitoring gestational diabetes presents a higher risk of both mother and baby developing type 2 diabetes at some future date.
Hormone replacement therapy:
The risks and benefits of hormone replacement therapy for the relief of menopausal symptoms should be carefully weighed for even the healthiest women considering the treatment. But for diabetic women, extra caution should be taken due to the potentially adverse effects of supplemental hormones on glucose levels. For this reason diabetic woman starting HRT should have their blood sugars closely monitored until things stabilize. The goal for all diabetic women, regardless of whether they are pregnant or menopausal, should always be to keep their blood sugars as close to what is considered “normal” for them as possible.
Frequent physician visits:
The many unique challenges that diabetic women face can often mean more visits to their health care providers than they would care to make. However, the benefits of extra visits in keeping glucose under control and better preventing many of the female specific complications from occurring, typically allow women with diabetes to lead more productive and happier lives.