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Diabetes: How It’s Different for Women

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By: Karen Yontz Center Staff

It seems like diabetes is in the news a lot lately. We hear that more and more people are getting it and we know that it can be a destructive disease on its own and make issues like heart disease worse. But many women don't know how to tell if they have diabetes or what the different types are, or even that there is a specific type of diabetes that only women get.

Types of Diabetes

Women, like men, can suffer from either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. Type 1 is an autoimmune disease where the body doesn't produce insulin. It is sometimes called “juvenile diabetes” because it usually develops at a young age. Type 2 is a condition that occurs when glucose (blood sugar) gets too high over time and the cells become insensitive to insulin so they can't use glucose efficiently for energy. This type of diabetes is closely related to obesity, but it is not necessary that a person be obese to develop it. Women can also develop a condition known as gestational diabetes while they are pregnant. Pregnant women need more glucose to nourish the developing baby and therefore they also need more insulin. In some women, the pancreas can't produce enough insulin to meet that need and their glucose levels rise, resulting in gestational diabetes.

Women's Diabetes Symptoms

Many of the signs and symptoms of diabetes of all forms of diabetes are the same in men and women. These include excessive thirst and hunger, fatigue, frequent urination, slow-healing wounds, blurred vision, nausea, skin infections, tingling or numbness in hands or feet, sudden weight loss or gain, and irritability. However, there a few signs and symptoms that are unique to women.

  • Vaginal itching and/or pain as well as vaginal or oral yeast infections: An overgrowth of a specific fungus known as candida albicans can lead to vaginal yeast infections or oral thrush.
  • Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs): Diabetic women experience these more often because the excessive glucose in urine is a breeding ground for bacterial growth.
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): This condition can cause signs and symptoms like irregular periods, acne, and excess hair on the face and body along with insulin resistance. About half the women with PCOS will develop diabetes.
  • Decrease in sex drive and pain with sex: lower libido along with problems like decreased sexual response and orgasm, decreased sensation, and vaginal dryness can happen in diabetic women.

Gestational Diabetes Signs and Symptoms

Pregnant women typically receive a test for gestational diabetes between the 24th and 28th week of pregnancy—this is when the condition usually develops. If the doctor detects sugar in the mother's urine, it means she has gestational diabetes. Often, this is the only outward sign that a woman has the condition. However, some women experience some of the more common symptoms of diabetes as mentioned in the previous section. The good news is that for most women, gestational diabetes will go away once she gives birth. However, these women are at an increased risk for developing Type 2 diabetes later in life.

Do All Diabetic Women Have Symptoms?

It is important to note that not all women with diabetes have any signs or symptoms. This is why it's important to communicate with your doctor and make sure you are getting the correct tests done to determine whether or not you may be diabetic.

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