Some aspects of diabetes are more relevant for women than for men. Women, for example, are more likely to be depressed, and diabetes increases a person’s risk of depression. Eating disorders may also be more common among women with diabetes than women without diabetes.
Even if these issues aren’t a problem for you right now, as a woman you should know about them for your future health and for that of others.
I have heard the story many times, about how a woman’s diabetes was actually diagnosed by a gynecologist because the woman had frequent yeast infections. Because yeast actually feeds on sugar, the elevated blood glucose levels associated with diabetes provide a friendly environment for yeast to grow. Controlling blood glucose levels can help reduce yeast infections.
Most men with diabetes know that they are more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction, but women are often surprised to learn that sex-related complications can affect them as well. A woman with diabetes might experience discomfort during intercourse, for example, due to decreased vaginal lubrication—a condition sometimes caused by the nerve damage associated with diabetes. Diabetes-related nerve damage may also reduce a woman’s pleasure during sex, making a decreased interest in sex another common complaint of women with diabetes. All of these issues can be dealt with by talking openly about them with your doctor.
Menstruation and Menopause
When hormones fluctuate, so do blood glucose levels. Unfortunately, each woman’s response to her hormone levels is unique, so no textbook can tell you what is happening to your glucose levels during menstruation and menopause. For many women, blood glucose levels rise right before and during the menstrual cycle, whereas the rise occurs only afterwards for others.
During menopause, most women with diabetes will experience more frequent fluctuations in glucose levels; these fluctuations might be indicating that your diabetes medications need adjusting. Keeping a detailed logbook of your blood glucose levels is the best way for you and your doctor to tackle glycemic control during this time in your life (or at any time, actually).
As I talk with my women clients, one common thread I hear is, “I don’t have time to take care of my diabetes because I’m taking care of others.” This response can of course also come from men but, in our society, the women in our lives tend to take on the caregiver role. So, even though taking time for self-care isn’t just an issue for women, I want to emphasize to these caring women that they must not forget to take care of themselves, too. Only when you are healthy can you continue to give care to others.
Take time for yourself, and talk openly with your doctor about any issues you may be having. For more information on women and diabetes, check out the American Diabetes Association.