Diabetes refers to a chronic condition where a person has high blood sugar levels because their bodies cannot produce enough insulin. Insulin is a natural hormone produced by the beta cells in the pancreas, which transports glucose to various body tissues such as muscle cells and fat cells. Glucose is a form of sugar which is one of the biggest sources of energy. Women who have diabetes experience high levels of glucose in the blood because their body cannot transport glucose from the bloodstream into fat and muscle cells. This is because their pancreas cannot produce enough insulin or their body cells are resistant to insulin, or both. If left untreated, diabetes in women can lead to serious health complications including nerve damage, kidney damage and foot damage.

Types of diabetes in women

There are three common types of diabetes which affects women. They include T1D (type 1 diabetes) , T2D (type 2 diabetes) and gestational diabetes. T1D refers to a condition where the pancreas cannot produce the hormone insulin. This happens when the immune system attacks the insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas. As a result, people with type 1 diabetes require insulin injection every day so that they can survive. T2D is as a result of insulin resistance or the pancreas not producing enough amount of insulin. Because your body fails to produce enough amount of insulin, it leads to an increase in blood glucose levels. Gestational diabetes is a common type of diabetes which occur in pregnant women. Hormonal changes during pregnancy is the main reason why gestational diabetes occurs in women. Usually this form of diabetes disappears after birth, but women who had this condition during pregnancy have a higher risk of developing T2D .

Signs and symptoms of diabetes in women over 40

If you are a woman over 40 and you are suffering from diabetes, you may experience the same symptoms as men. However, there are signs and symptoms of diabetes in women over 40 which are unique to them alone. It is important you understand the different types of diabetes symptoms so that you can get an early diagnosis and treatment. Pre-diabetes can be reversed through lifestyle changes that involve proper diet plan and exercise program.

Signs and symptoms of diabetes that are unique to women alone

  • Vaginal thrush and yeast infection

If you have vaginal thrush, it could be a symptom of diabetes in women over 40 because high levels of blood glucose can lead to glucose being excreted via urine. Glucose in the urine creates a conducive environment for fungus growth, which leads to yeast infection. Symptoms of yeast infection include white vaginal discharge, pain during sexual intercourse, itching and soreness.

  • Female sexual dysfunction

Female sexual dysfunction negatively affects sexual activity by reducing sex drive and making it difficult to achieve orgasm. Blood glucose levels that remain high in the long term can lead to nerve damage and poor supply of blood which can lead to problems with orgasm and arousal. Also, high blood glucose reduces the natural lubrication of the vagina which makes sexual intercourse painful.

  • Urinary tract infection

Women who have diabetes have a higher risk of developing urinary tract infection or UTI. Urinary tract infection refers to an infection of the urinary system, including kidneys, urethra and bladder. If you have UTI, you may experience symptoms such as a burning feeling while urinating, shakiness or tiredness, dark or cloudy urine, chills or fever.

  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic ovarian syndrome develops when the adrenal glands produce a high number of male hormones. PCOS can lead to insulin resistance and infertility. Polycystic ovarian syndrome is characterized by higher number of cysts in the ovaries. PCOS is linked to a high amount of insulin in the body, which is common in people with type 2 diabetes and those who are overweight. Symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome include depression, weight gain, acne and irregular periods.

Signs and symptoms experienced by both men and women

The following are signs and symptoms of undiagnosed diabetes experienced by both men and women:

  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Hunger
  • Increased thirst
  • Nausea
  • Irritability
  • Decreased feeling in hands and feet
  • Wounds that don’t heal
  • Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
  • Skin infection
  • Fruity breath

It is important to note that most people who have type 2 diabetes do not develop any noticeable signs and symptoms. Type 2 diabetes refers to a medical condition where a person cannot produce enough insulin on their own or use it properly. If you think you are at risk of having diabetes, you should see a doctor who will conduct a blood test.

Diabetes risk factors in women

It is not yet known what exactly causes type 1 or type 2 diabetes in women. However, there are certain factors which increases your risk of having diabetes. For example, if you are overweight or obese, you are at risk of developing diabetes. Body mass index or BMI is used to measure body weight by dividing your weight in kilograms by height in meters squared. You are considered to be overweight if your BMI is 25 and above. On the other hand, people who are obese have a BMI of 30 and above. If you are overweight or obese, your body cannot properly use insulin, a condition known as insulin resistance. However, losing excessive weight and becoming physically active can help reverse insulin resistant. Women who are overweight are encouraged to reduce their weight so that they can properly manage their blood sugar levels. Your doctor can help you come up with a weight loss program as part of your diabetes treatment.

The following are other risk factors of diabetes in women:

  • Women who are older than 45 have a higher risk of having diabetes.
  • If you have hypertension, you are at risk of developing diabetes.
  • If you come from a family with a history of diabetes.
  • Also, if you have a history of stroke or heart disease.
  • If you live a sedentary lifestyle or don’t exercise regularly.
  • In case you had gestational diabetes, you can develop diabetes in the future.
  • If you gave birth to a newborn who weighed over 9 pounds.

You can talk to your doctor so that they can help you determine the best way to keep your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood sugar levels in a healthy range.

Disclaimer: Please note that the contents of this community article are strictly for informational purposes and should not be considered as medical advice. This article, and other community articles, are not written or reviewed for medical validity by Canadian Insulin or its staff. All views and opinions expressed by the contributing authors are not endorsed by Canadian Insulin. Always consult a medical professional for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.