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Diabetes: A special risk for women


Keep an eye on common annoyances
Keep an eye on common annoyances

Diabetes causes excess glucose to accumulate in the bloodstream. Glucose, in turn, attracts infection-causing bacteria. The result: Women with diabetes are more prone to yeast infections, urinary tract infections and other vaginal infections. Because these conditions can lead to complications for women with diabetes, prompt treatment is recommended.


What is diabetes?
What is diabetes?

In diabetes, the body doesn’t use blood sugar, or glucose, efficiently. That’s because insulin—the hormone that’s responsible for helping glucose enter the body’s cells—is either absent, present in small amounts or otherwise unable to do its job. As a result, glucose builds to dangerous levels in the bloodstream. Unchecked, diabetes may lead to blindness and kidney disease.

If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor:

  • frequent urination
  • abnormal thirst
  • unexplained weight loss
  • unexplained fatigue
  • slow-to-heal infections

You can lower your risk of developing diabetes by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and maintaining an ideal weight.


Diabetes during pregnancy
Diabetes during pregnancy

Two percent to 5 percent of women develop diabetes when they are pregnant. Called gestational diabetes, it occurs when hormones manufactured by the placenta interact with insulin.

In most cases, gestational diabetes goes away after the pregnancy; however, women who experience gestational diabetes are at greater risk for developing diabetes later in life. As such, they should make every effort to eat a balanced diet, maintain a healthy weight, stay active and see their doctors for regular checkups.

Although women are no more likely than men to get diabetes, they are at greater risk for complications should they develop the disease. That is why gaining tight control of diabetes by exercising, eating right, testing blood sugar levels and taking medication is very important for women with diabetes. What’s more, all women should be aware of the symptoms of diabetes and see their doctors if they suspect they have a problem.

Diabetes and the female heart

Women with diabetes have a two to four times greater risk of heart attack, congestive heart failure and other heart conditions compared with nondiabetic women. Diabetes is also linked to these risk factors for heart disease.

Obesity. On average, women with diabetes are more obese than nondiabetic women. Extra weight forces the heart to work harder and decreases the amount of oxygen that goes to the heart. (Note: Excess weight increases a woman’s chance of developing diabetes if she doesn’t already have it.)

Cholesterol. Diabetes in women is associated with low levels of HDL, or “good,” cholesterol. Because HDL cholesterol helps clear artery-clogging LDL cholesterol from the body, a reduction in HDL puts a woman’s heart health in jeopardy.

High blood pressure. Women with diabetes tend to have higher blood pressure than nondiabetic women.

To help control these factors and keep blood sugar levels in check, women with diabetes should follow the nutrition and exercise plan recommended by their doctors. In addition, women who have diabetes and smoke should make every effort to extinguish the habit. Smoking can double a woman with diabetes’s already high risk of heart disease by narrowing blood vessels and encouraging blood clots.

Baby … maybe?

Because pregnancy may affect their medication regimens, women with diabetes should talk to their obstetricians before trying to conceive.

During their pregnancies, these women will be closely monitored by their obstetricians. But it’s also important for them to monitor blood-sugar levels at home. Pregnancy can change the way a woman’s body responds to low or high blood sugar, thereby masking her usual symptoms. If a problem goes unchecked, the developing baby may grow too large, threatening mother and child at delivery. Women with diabetes are also at higher risk for preeclampsia, a blood-pressure condition.

After delivery, many women with diabetes require less insulin as their bodies return to their nonpregnant state. Nursing moms, in particular, should test their glucose levels frequently because making breast milk requires a lot of energy. They may need to eat a little more to keep blood-sugar levels controlled. A snack and some juice during nighttime feedings can prevent blood-sugar levels from plummeting in the early morning. Consultations with a doctor and a dietitian can help new moms adjust their diets and medication regimens for optimal blood sugar control.

Diabetes and the female heart

Baby … maybe?