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Diabetes is different for women: Know the risks and symptoms

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Posted on by Eugena L. Wright, MD

 

One in 12 U.S. adults has diabetes—equal numbers of women and men, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health. However, when it comes to complications, all is not equal. Women with diabetes face greater risks from the disease than men and can also experience different symptoms. Here’s what women need to know to stay healthy.

A higher risk of complications

Diabetes can be especially hard on women. Compared to men, women with diabetes have a higher risk of:

  • Heart disease—the most common complication of diabetes
  • Dying from a heart attack or experiencing a poorer quality of life following a heart attack
  • Blindness
  • Depression
  • During pregnancy, diabetes can increase the risk of miscarriage or birth defects

What are the symptoms?

While both women and men can experience some common symptoms of diabetes like fatigue, increased thirst and hunger, blurry vision, increased urination, and weight loss for no known reason, women may also have unique symptoms, including:

  • vaginal and oral yeast infections and vaginal thrush
  • urinary tract infections
  • polycystic ovary infection
  • female sexual dysfunction

Are you at risk?

Women and girls with the following risk factors are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes:

  • Overweight or obesity. For adults, this means having a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or higher. For children and teens, weighing above the 85th percentile based on their BMI.
  • Age 45 or older: After menopause, women are at higher risk for weight gain, especially around the waist.
  • Family history of diabetes
  • Personal health history of heart disease or stroke
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)—a hormonal imbalance among women of reproductive age
  • Race/ethnicity: African-American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Hispanic, Asian-American, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander
  • Having a baby weighing 9 pounds or more at birth
  • Diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes)
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Sedentary lifestyle

How to reduce your risk

While researchers continue to study ways to prevent type 1 diabetes, there are 3 important things you can do to prevent type 2 diabetes—the most common type of diabetes:

  1. Maintain a healthy weight: Obesity is a major risk factor diabetes. Even a small amount of weight loss can delay or prevent type 2 diabetes.
  2. Eat a healthy diet, high in vegetables, whole grains (such as whole wheat or rye bread, whole grain cereal, or brown rice), beans, and fruit. Choose foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium. Limit processed foods and sugary foods and drinks.
  3. Stay active: Strive for 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week. Sit less, move more!

 | LGHP - Diabetes & Endocrinology

Eugena L. Wright, MD is an endocrinologist with Lancaster General Health Physicians Diabetes & Endocrinology and is specially trained in the evaluation and treatment of chronic conditions such as diabetes and thyroid issues. Education: Medical school—Indiana University School of Medicine; Internship—Ball Memorial Hospital; Fellowship—University of Louisville Medical Center.

 
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