Diabetes symptoms in women are a common condition. According to NHS statistics diabetes affects 2.8 million people, both men and women, in the U.K. It is believed that a further 1 million have the condition but remain undiagnosed. 90% of all adults in the U.K. with diabetes have type 2.
Managing diabetes whilst going through menopause can feel like a double challenge for many women due to the combined effects that each condition can have on the body.
What Are The Different Types of Diabetes?
Type 1 – A total lack of insulin
- Formerly called juvenile-onset or insulin-dependent diabetes.
- The body’s immune system destroys the cells that release insulin, which results in the elimination of insulin production from the body.
- If you don’t have insulin in your body, cells cannot absorb sugar (glucose) which they need to produce energy.
Type 2 – Too little insulin or cannot use insulin effectively
- Previously called adult-onset or non-insulin dependent diabetes. Type 2 diabetes can develop at any age but is most commonly known for developing during adulthood.
- The main characteristic of type 2 diabetes is insulin resistance.
- Insulin resistance is the body’s inability to respond to insulin.
Resistance develops because of many factors:-
- Increasing age
- High blood sugar over a long period of time
Gestational – Like type 2 but occurs in the later stages of pregnancy
- Normally disappears after the baby is born.
- You are more likely to develop gestational diabetes in future pregnancies.
- You are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes as some stage.
The Differences Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes
Type 1 Diabetes
- Signs and symptoms are usually very obvious and develop quickly.
- People seek medical help because they are seriously ill from symptoms of high blood sugar.
- Episodes of low sugar (hypoglycemia) are common.
- Type 1 cannot be prevented
Type 2 Diabetes
- Signs and symptoms may not be obvious as the condition develops slowly over a period of years and many only be picked up in a routine medical.
- Unless a person is taking insulin or certain oral diabetic medicines, there are no episodes of low blood sugar.
- It can be prevented or delayed with a healthy lifestyle including eating a sensible diet, maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise, not smoking and limited alcohol.
Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes increases the risk of serious complications including blindness and kidney failure, heart disease, stroke and foot and leg amputations.
Compare your blood sugar levels with normal/optimum values.
Source: American Diabetes Association: http://www.diabetes.org
Diabetes Symptoms in Women – Type 2 Diabetes
Passing urine more often than usual, particularly during the night. This is one of the most common diabetes symptoms in women.
Unexplained weight loss and muscle mass or weight gain. Loss of appetite or extreme hunger.
Genital itching or regular episodes of thrush. Yeast infection is a very common symptom of diabetes in women.
Slow healing of cuts, sores and infections.
Loss of sensation in hands or feet.
Poor blood circulation.
Further diabetes symptoms in women that may be serious include fainting spells, rapid heartbeat, feeling weak, perspiring excessively, hunger, feeling drowsy or trembling. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms you may be developing hypoglycemia which is termed as low blood sugar. This needs to be confirmed by your healthcare professional, following which you may be advised to eat a snack or drink something that is carbohydrate rich to prevent further complications.
Managing Diabetes and Menopause
Perimenopause is the transient period (between 2-10 years) leading up to actual menopause, which is marked by your final period, following which you are in the postmenopausal phase of your life. The average age for a women reaching menopause is 51 years. You will find a comprehensive list of the changes you can expect on the Symptoms of Menopause page.
It is in perimenopause that you will start to notice changes, if you are diabetic it would be a good idea to keep a journal of your signs and symptoms together with your blood sugar levels as this will help you to recognise important patterns and will make a discussion with your doctor easier and more productive.
According to Diabetes.co.uk, if you have diabetes and are in menopause you can expect:-
- Fluctuating blood sugar levels. Changes in the levels of estrogen and progesterone, the female hormones that affect how your cells respond to insulin, can lead to unexpected fluctuations in your blood sugar making it harder to keep diabetes well controlled.
- Weight gain. Putting on weight at menopause is a common issue for some women particularly around the mid-section and can increase the need for insulin or oral diabetes medication.
- Infections. Diabetes raises the risk of urinary and vaginal infection and this risk increases further during and after menopause as less estrogen in the body makes for even more ideal conditions in the urinary tract/vagina for bacteria and yeast to thrive.
- Sleep problems. During all stages of menopause, hot flushes and night sweats can keep you from sleeping well. Sleep deprivation can make it tougher to manage your blood sugar levels.
- Sexual Dysfunction. Over time, high blood sugar levels may damage the nerves in the vagina and cause thinning and inflammation of the vaginal walls, which can make arousal and orgasm more difficult. Vaginal dryness, one of the most common menopausal symptoms, may also cause pain during sex.
- Lose weight if you are overweight or obese but avoid crash diets
- Eat a healthy well balanced diet and avoid crash dieting
- Keep you waist size under 31.5 inches (80cm) women
- Do not smoke
- Avoid stress
- Only drink alcohol in moderation
- Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control
- Increase your physical activity including both aerobic and weight bearing exercise. During the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) 2015 Conference, Jane E. B. Reusch, M.D., discussed a study from the Journal of American Medical Association on the relationship between walking and mortality among US adults with diabetes. The study concluded that walking was associated with lower mortality across a diverse range of adults with diabetes. One death per year may be prevented for every 61 individuals who walk at least 2 hours a week.
- Test your blood sugars together with a diary of your symptoms and provide this information to your doctor as they may need to adjust your diabetes treatment plan
- Protect your bones. Over time, diabetes can cause a number of bone and joint problems such as Osteoporosis and this can escalate during and after menopause. Add calcium and vitamin d supplements to your diet and get your bone density assessed.
If you are struggling to cope with menopause symptoms remember that help and support is available from your healthcare professional.
Alternative Remedies: some women choose to use ‘natural’ products for the relief of symptoms, however, natural does not always mean safe. Any woman with an underlying medical condition such as diabetes should seek advice from their healthcare professional before taking any alternative medicine.
Alternative Therapies: self-relaxation techniques, yoga, meditation and massage are all becoming increasingly popular in managing menopause symptoms.
Hormone Replacement Therapy HRT: HRT is an option for some women although it remains a complicated issue. For women with or without diabetes, close consultation is necessary with their healthcare professional to decide if HRT is an appropriate treatment based on their personal history.
If you are concerned that you may be experiencing diabetes symptoms discuss them with your healthcare professional so that the necessary tests can be carried out.
Schneider, C., MS, RD, RN, CDE, LDN (2014) Menopause and Diabetes. Retrieved from https://diabetessisters.org/article/menopause-and-diabetes
Menopause and Diabetes. Retrieved from http://www.diabetes.co.uk/menopause-and-diabetes.html
Diabetes and menopause: A twin challenge (2014) Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/in-depth/diabetes/art-20044312
Diabetes Hits Women Hard at Menopause: Beat It Back. Retrieved from http://www.menopause.org/for-women/menopauseflashes/bone-health-and-heart-health/diabetes-hits-women-hard-at-menopause-beat-it-back