Diabetes in Women – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

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Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that occurs either due to impaired insulin production or due to reduced responsiveness to insulin in body leading to abnormally high levels of glucose in the blood stream [1].

It is common disorder to affect both women and men. Gestational diabetes is a kind of diabetes which is exclusive to pregnant women. However, the occurrence of this disease is much rarer than that of Type I and Type II Diabetes.

Women Gestational Diabetes

Causes of Diabetes in Women

The exact causes of diabetes in women are still debated and it is difficult to find a conclusive answer as to what is the exact cause of diabetes. In women, diabetes mellitus is believed to be caused due to a number of factors which include:

  • Genetic susceptibility
  • Being overweight and cases of obesity
  • Various environmental factors which act as triggers to the condition
  • Gestational diabetes may occur during pregnancy due to an improper balance of hormones or the body not effectively reacting to insulin. If left untreated, it can cause Type II Diabetes in both the mother and the child.
  • Prediabetes, if left uncontrolled, can lead to the development of Type II Diabetes in the future

What Is Diabetes?

Signs and symptoms of Diabetes in Women

There are a number of signs and symptoms of diabetes in women. Such symptoms include:

  • Excessive urination, also known as polyuria is a common symptom of diabetes where the diabetic individual feels an urge to urinate several times in a day. This results in excreting in excess of 2.5 liters per day as the body tries to eliminate the excess glucose in the blood stream through urine.
  • Increased thirst and dryness of the mouth is also quite common. This condition is also known as Polydipsia and it is induced due to loss of fluids from the body. The condition may even lead to dehydration if not fulfilled and this may eventually lead to a comatose state.
  • Increased hunger or Polyphagia is also very commonly observed. In diabetic patients, the body cells do not get sufficient calories for routine activities due to the reduced response to insulin. This subsequently results in the accumulation of glucose in blood.
  • Fatigue or increased tiredness due to insufficient calorie production even though there is sufficient glucose in the blood. This may prove to greatly hinder daily activities.
  • Slow healing of wounds is another important feature that is seen in diabetic patients. The immune system as well as the circulatory system of the body in diabetics are greatly impaired and as such, whenever damage in done to tissues or a wound occurs, healing takes place at a much slower pace than usual.
  • Numbness or tingling sensation in limbs as the blood circulation is reduced due to accumulation of high level of glucose in bloodstream. This may range from mild to severe and care and attention must be provided to this symptom as the limbs are very susceptible to being damaged in case of diabetic individuals.
  • There are many other symptoms which accompany the different types of diabetes and include a blurring of the vision, a lack of interest combined with irritability, loss of concentration while working and the presence of a dry and fruity odor in the breath.

Diabetic woman

Some of the features specific to the different types of diabetes that may affect women include:

Signs and Symptoms of Type I Diabetes in Women

Type I Diabetes in women is generally diagnosed in children and in young adults. This is a much less prevalent form of diabetes as compared to Type II Diabetes, but is nevertheless, quite widespread. Some of the signs and symptoms that are associated with Type I Diabetes in women include:

  • A sudden or unexpected loss in weight despite an increased appetite and consumption of lot of food.
  • Excessive urination and the presence of ketotic bodies and excess sugar in the urine.
  • An increased feeling of being dehydrated and thirsty due to the excessive loss of fluids from the body.
  • A feeling of nausea frequently accompanied with vomiting.
  • General nervousness, irritability, confusion and a lack of interest in otherwise enjoyable activities. Fatigue and weakness is also common in Type I Diabetes sufferers.
  • An increased susceptibility to infections due to an impaired immune system and circulatory system. Wounds and damage done to the body also takes much longer to heal due to the same problem.
  • An increased appetite and an increased feeling of hunger. This happens despite the fact that there is enough glucose in the blood stream as the body cells still require more energy in order to function. There may also be an unexpected or unforeseen loss in weight even though the appetite may be considered to be healthy.
  • A feeling of numbness or a tingling sensation in the limbs. This also occurs due to impaired circulation of blood because of the excess glucose content in the blood stream. Care must be given to this symptom as the limbs of Type I Diabetes sufferers are greatly susceptible to being damaged.

Signs and Symptoms of Type II Diabetes in Women

Type II Diabetes is a much more prevalent form of diabetes in women. Type II Diabetes is generally encountered by women at an elderly age, although there are also a few cases of the disorder being diagnosed in younger women.

Type II Diabetes can be encountered if a woman has suffered from an episode of Gestational Diabetes or prediabetes in the past.

Some of the signs and symptoms of Type II Diabetes in women include the following:

  • A condition known as Acanthosis Nigricans or the appurtenance of dark patches on the skin
  • Dry and scaly skin which may show itching and rashes
  • Fungal infection on the skin, especially on the vagina
  • Psychological changes in moods such as frequent irritability, a feeling of agitation and also a feeling of nervousness
  • General loss of libido, sexual dysfunction or discomfort as well as pain during sexual intercourse. This is primarily due to reduced lubrication due to the presence of excess glucose in the blood stream in the genital area
  • Urinary tract infection, also caused due to the frequent excretion of urine rich in sugar and glucose
  • Sudden or unexpected gain or loss in weight due to the faulty metabolism of carbohydrates and fats and the buildup of excess glucose in the blood stream.

Gestational Diabetes

Women who become pregnant after 35 years of age are susceptible to developing a condition known as Gestational Diabetes [2]. This condition involves a number of pregnancy related complications where the increased glucose levels in blood may enter the fetus through placenta and may cause large size of baby that may lead to complications during delivery.

Diabetic Diet

Gestational Diabetes is not easy to be diagnosed as the signs and symptoms only manifest themselves in the third trimester of pregnancy. As such, women, who are believed to be at a risk of encountering diabetes, should ensure to get screening tests conducted as early as possible.

Diagnosis of Diabetes in Women

There are a number of tests and medical check-ups which can help diagnose diabetes. The following tests are quite common these days in order to diagnose or detect diabetes:

  • Fasting blood sugar test
  • Oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT)
  • Random sugar test with a glucometer
  • A1C test, also known as hemoglobin A1C or the glycohemoglobin test
  • The 8 autoantibody test which helps to determine the type of diabetes in individuals
Diabetes OGT test Diabetes HbA1c test

Women who are over the age of 35 who get pregnant should get screening tests for diabetes conducted [3]. Screening tests are also recommended for all women who are believed to be at a risk of encountering the disease.

Very often, the diagnostic tests for diabetes go hand in hand with a number of other tests to check for damage done to other parts of the body due to diabetes. Some of the common tests include tests of the cardiovascular system, the kidneys, the heart, monitoring of blood pressure levels and also the monitoring of blood sugar levels. Eye examinations, examinations for hearing and examinations of the limbs, especially the hands and the feet are also carried out in conjunction to the other diagnostic tests.

Pregnant woman diabetes

Gestational Diabetes manifests itself clearly only in the third trimester of pregnancy and as such, it is essential that women get screening tests conducted at the earliest. If left uncontrolled, Gestational Diabetes can go on to cause Type II Diabetes in both the mother and the child. This is because the excess glucose in the mother’s blood stream is transferred onto the baby through the placenta.

Prediabetes is a condition which is characterized by high blood sugar levels, but these levels are not high enough to be considered to be a case of Type II Diabetes.  Nevertheless, prediabetes should also be dealt with care as the disease can very easily develop into Type II Diabetes if allowed to go uncontrolled.

Diabetes must diagnosed at the earliest and people susceptible to encountering the disease should take utmost care of signs and symptoms and should also get screening tests conducted on a frequent basis.

Treatment of Diabetes in Women

Diabetes is a serious disorder which must be provided with utmost care and attention in order to prevent the occurrences of any complications related to the disease [4]. While prediabetes and Gestational Diabetes are both reversible conditions, wherein the blood sugar levels may be restored to normal levels, these conditions render the patient susceptible to encountering Type II Diabetes later on in life. As such, prediabetes and Gestational Diabetes both require careful management in order to successfully prevent Type II Diabetes.

Type I Diabetes and Type II Diabetes are both chronic conditions and there is no definitive cure for these types of the disease. Managing the signs and symptoms and keeping the blood glucose levels in check are the only effective methods for the treatment of diabetes. There is active medical and scientific research being carried out in order to determine a proper cure for diabetes.

Diabetic woman

Some of the common methods and remedies that are employed in order to treat the different types of diabetes mellitus include the following:

  • Prediabetes can easily be controlled with regular exercise combined with a diabetic diet. Only in very rare cases are medications used. Prediabetes should be treated at the earliest in order to prevent the disease from degenerating into Type II Diabetes.
  • Type I Diabetes can be managed by a combination of exercise, a diabetic diet and external insulin administration. The bodies of women who suffer from Type I Diabetes do not produce any insulin at all and as such, external administration of insulin is a must.
  • Type II Diabetes is first remedied with rigorous daily exercise, a loss in weight and by following a strict diabetic diet. It is only when all of these measures fail, that oral hypoglycemic drugs such as metformin, prandin, glimepiride and pioglitazone are used to keep the blood sugar levels in check. In some cases however, oral medications also prove to be insufficient in controlling the conditions and in such cases, treatment with insulin or insulin analogues like insulin Lispro, insulin Glargin and insulin Aspart are considered to be useful.
  • Gestational diabetes can be treated by regular exercise and by a diet modification itself. Only 15% of women diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes need medications like oral hypoglycemics or sometimes insulin analogues.

Diabetics need to follow a strict medical routine involving a number of frequent check-up and monitoring sessions [5]. While it is not possible to completely cure diabetes, the blood sugar levels can easily be kept in check by following a healthy and regular diabetic diet, performing loads of physical activity on a daily basis, oral medications and sometimes also by the administration of insulin. While all of these can greatly help in alleviating the symptoms of the disease, a diabetic must always maintain care throughout the course of their lives as even the smallest factors or the smallest triggers can cause the blood sugar levels to rise at an alarming rate and this may lead to serious and life threatening complications.

 

References


[1] Diagnosis and Management of the Metabolic Syndrome, Scott M. Grundy, James I. Cleeman, Stephen R. Daniels,; Circulation2005; 112: 2735-2752 – September 12, 2005 – DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.105.169404, http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/112/17/2735.short


[2] Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, Asthma, and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes in Women, Jamal S. Rana, Murray A. Mittleman,; vol. 27 no. 10 2478-2484 – October 2004 – DOI: 10.2337/diacare.27.10.2478, http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/27/10/2478.short


[3] Why Is Diabetes Mellitus a Stronger Risk Factor for Fatal Ischemic Heart Disease in Women Than in Men?, Elizabeth L. Barrett-Connor, MD; Barbara A. Cohn, PhD; Deborah L. Wingard, PhD; Sharon L. Edelstein, MSc; 1991;265(5):627-631 –  February 6, 1991- DOI: 10.1001/jama.1991.03460050081025, http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=384908


[4] Impact of diabetes on coronary artery disease in women and men: a meta-analysis of prospective studies, W L Lee, A M Cheung,D Cape and B Zinman.; 23no. 7 962-968 – July 2000 – DOI: 10.2337/diacare.23.7.962, http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/23/7/962.short


[5] WEIGHT AS A RISK FACTOR FOR CLINICAL DIABETES IN WOMEN, GRAHAM A. COLDITZ, WALTER C. WILLETT,; Am. J. Epidemiol. (1990) 132 (3):501-513 – March 30, 1990 http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/132/3/501.short

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