Let’s not beat around the bush: diabetes makes life tough. You have to plan ahead for everything, account for all your meals, and deal with high blood sugar constantly haunting your steps.
But brace yourselves: the complications of diabetes are harder on women than men. For example, while men with diabetes live about 7.5 years less than their non-diabetic peers, women with diabetes live 8.2 years less than their non-diabetic peers. In the general population, women live longer than men, but diabetes reverses their advantage. Women also have to deal with some complications, like polycystic ovary syndrome (POS), that men don’t ever have to consider. Can’t the ladies get a break?
Here are 10 ways that diabetes affects women differently than men:
1. Increased Risk for Heart Attack
The reason that women in the general population tend to live longer than men is mostly attributed to lower rates of heart disease. But diabetes increases women’s heart disease risk more so than it does men’s; women with diabetes are six times more likely to have heart disease than non-diabetic women, whereas men’s risk only increases two or three times with diabetes.
Among people with diabetes, women are more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, increasing their heart disease and heart attack risk. But that’s not the whole story. Studies have shown that for women with diabetes, heart attacks are more often fatal. A woman’s warning signs may be more subtle as well. Common warning signs of heart attacks are chest pain and upper body discomfort, but a woman is more likely to deal with nausea, shortness of breath, and back or jaw pain before or during a heart attack. These signs are much less recognizable as the indications of heart attacks.
2. Increased Risk for Kidney Disease
Women also get the short end of the testing strip when it comes to kidney disease. Again, men have a higher risk for kidney disease in the general population, but the tables are turned amongst those with diabetes.
3. Less attentive healthcare
Because women generally experience fewer cases of heart and kidney disease in the general population, a doctor may perceive a woman with diabetes to be at less risk even when that’s not the case. So a woman may not receive aggressive treatment even if she needs it.
4. Vaginal Complications
Diabetes does affect men’s reproductive organs—diabetes can contribute to yeast infections in men, erectile dysfunction, and difficulty with orgasm. But women with diabetes can experience decreased libido and difficulty with orgasm as well, and they are more likely to deal with yeast infections and urinary tract infections.
Women with diabetes are also much more to be diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a common cause of female infertility. It can cause irregular periods, acne, thinning scalp hair, and hair growth on the face. PCOS is not caused by diabetes, but it is associated with insulin resistance and often considered a precursor for type 2 diabetes, and the conditions are often co-occurring. PCOS is also present in about a quarter of women with type 1 diabetes.
Depression is about twice as common in women than men in the general population, and depression can increase the risk of diabetes. Some research has shown that women with both depression and diabetes are at double the risk of early death than women without either condition, and a 2006 study found a correlation between the two conditions in women, but not in men.
For the full story on diabetes and depression, click here.
6. Birth Control Interactions
Taking birth control pills could raise blood sugar levels, and taking the pill for longer than one or two years may increase your risk of diabetes-related complications.
7. Unique diabetes medication side effects
8. Pregnancy Complications
Women with type 1 or type 2 diabetes can have safe pregnancies, but diabetes generally makes pregnancy harder. Increased blood sugar monitoring is recommended to ensure a healthy baby both before and during pregnancy as high blood sugar can increase risk of complications.
9. Gestational Diabetes
In addition to the complications above, there’s a type of diabetes that only affects women: gestational. Hormones that help a baby develop can also block the normal functioning of the mother’s insulin. Gestational diabetes develops when a pregnant woman’s body is not able to supply all the insulin it needs for pregnancy, and a woman with gestational diabetes will deal with increased pregnancy complications. Up to 9.2 percent of pregnant women experience gestational diabetes, and having gestational diabetes increases a woman’s risk of developing type 2 later on in life.
10. Blood sugar changes after menopause
Women with diabetes are more likely to go through early menopause, and the hormonal changes associated with menopause will affect a woman’s diabetes management and make blood sugar levels less predictable. The sleep problems associated with menopause may also make blood sugar harder to manage.
It’s frustrating that women have to deal with additional complications of diabetes. When will they get a break? The only silver lining is that women are tough, and knowing their increased risks can help them to better advocate for themselves. Stay healthy, ladies!
Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.