How Diabetes Is Different for Women

By

Gina Garippo

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Diabetes is a disease that affects millions of American men and women. Statistics show that close to 11 percent of all women in the U.S. ages 20 and older have diabetes—only slightly less than men. Although it isn’t primarily a women’s disease, diabetes does affect women differently than men.

The good news is that knowing how it may impact your health and well-being can help you better manage or even prevent potential complications. Below are some things women with diabetes should know.

Heart Disease

Heart disease is the most common cause of death for women with diabetes. A woman’s risk for heart disease jumps significantly if she has diabetes: it’s about six times higher than for women who are not diabetic. Among diabetics, women are more likely than men to develop heart disease, and women usually have worse outcomes.

Keep in mind that, despite these negative statistics, you will not necessarily develop heart disease or heart complications. Although you can’t change some risk factors, such as having diabetes or a family history of heart disease, there’s a lot you can do to reduce your risk. For example:

  • Don’t smoke.

  • Keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control.

  • Maintain a healthy weight.

  • Exercise regularly.

  • Manage your diabetes.

  • Make sure you know the symptoms of a heart attack so you can get emergency treatment if one occurs. Some symptoms, such as nausea or dizziness, are more common in women.

Depression

Being female and having diabetes both put you at greater risk for depression. All people with diabetes are more likely than others to deal with depression. Women also experience depression about twice as often as men because of changes in female hormones and the added demands and responsibilities of work and family life.

Identifying and treating depression is very important. Depression can greatly interfere with a woman’s health, happiness, and quality of life. It can also affect sleeping and eating habits, participation in enjoyable activities, and the ability to self-manage diabetes. If you believe you may be depressed or have been feeling down for two or more weeks, talk with your doctor. Medication, counseling, or other treatment options can help.

Eating Disorders

Some studies suggest that women with diabetes are more likely to develop an eating disorder, such as binge eating or bulimia. Eating disorders are serious, especially among women with diabetes, because healthy eating is vital to keeping diabetes under control. Eating disorders can also be life-threatening and should always be taken seriously.

Many women live with eating disorders in silence because they are too embarrassed to discuss the problem. Talk with your doctor right away if you suspect you or a loved one might have an issue.

Hormone and Sexual Problems

Many women with diabetes experience both hormonal and sexual problems. Sexual problems might include decreased interest in sex due to depression or fatigue as well as painful intercourse due to vaginal dryness. Changing hormones can also interfere with diabetes management. For example, some women find it difficult to keep their blood glucose at normal levels around their periods. Menopause can also lead to greater swings in blood sugar.

If you’re having sexual or hormonal problems, don’t be afraid to seek help. Your doctor will work to treat the cause of the problem—from reducing blood sugar swings by modifying medications to addressing clinical depression that may be affecting sexual drive.

Finding Help

Women are experts at managing families, homes, and work environments. Women also have the power to manage their diabetes. The key is to be engaged in your health, partner with your doctor, and seek the care you need. With the right prevention and management efforts, you can avoid or reduce many of these problems.


Key Takeaways

  • Diabetes doesn’t always affect men and women the same way. Knowing how it may impact your health and well-being can help you better manage or prevent complications.

  • Among diabetics, women are more likely than men to develop heart disease, and women usually have worse outcomes.

  • Being female and having diabetes both put you at greater risk for depression.

  • Some studies suggest that women with diabetes are more likely to develop an eating disorder.

  • Many women with diabetes experience both hormonal and sexual problems.
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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Jun 10, 2015

© 2016 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

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Medical References

  1. “How Diabetes Differs for Men and Women.” American Diabetes Association. (http://forecast.diabetes.org/magazine/features/how-diabetes-differs-men-and-women.);
  2. “Diabetes Statistics." American Diabetes Association (http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/diabetes-statistics.);
  3. “Depression.” American Diabetes Association (http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/mental-health/depression.html.);
  4. "Coronary Artery Disease." (http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/women/coronary-heart-disease.html.);
  5. “Eating Disorders.” American Diabetes Association (http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/women/eating-disorders.html);
  6. “Sexual Health.” American Diabetes Association (http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/women/sexual-health.html.);

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