Everyone with diabetes needs to take care of his or her health, but women with diabetes face even more health challenges than their male counterparts.
Diabetic women are more likely than diabetic men to have heart disease, kidney disease, poor blood-glucose control, high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels and obesity, said Melissa Jacobson, a diabetes educator with Legacy Weight and Diabetes Institute.
Lifestyle changes can help control type 2 diabetes, or insulin resistance, which accounts for about 95 percent of the 29 million Americans with diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.
The 1.25 million Americans with type 1 diabetes, however, have an autoimmune disease in which the pancreas stops producing insulin.
In terms of gender, diabetes is an equal opportunity disease striking as many men as women, Jacobson said. But women with diabetes have it worse than diabetic men, according to an article in Diabetes Forecast.
Although women usually live longer than men due to their lower rates of heart disease, women with diabetes have no such advantage. Women with diabetes are six times as likely to develop heart disease than women without diabetes. Men with diabetes are two to three times as likely to develop heart disease than their healthy counterparts.
Heart disease for women with diabetes is also more deadly than for diabetic men, Jacobson said, partly because heart attack symptoms for women — fatigue, nausea, dizziness — are more easily overlooked and dismissed than heart attack symptoms for men, such as chest pain.
Another general female health benefit — higher levels of good cholesterol — also disappears with diabetes, which drives down good cholesterol levels in women.
Kidney disease also is more common for women with diabetes than their male counterparts. Usually, men have a higher risk for kidney disease than women, and women who do get kidney disease usually don't get it until menopause. But women with diabetes are as likely as men to get kidney disease regardless of age.
Diabetic women are twice as likely to suffer from depression as diabetic men. Plus, when compared to women without diabetes, they are more likely to have polycystic ovary syndrome, more prone to urinary tract and vaginal infections (a persistent yeast infection can actually be a symptom of diabetes, Jacobson said), and more likely to have pregnancy complications.
In fact, merely having polycystic ovary syndrome is considered a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes, Jacobson said. "That's a red flag," she said, adding that it usually takes 10 years for insulin resistance to even show up as type 2 diabetes.
Women with gestational diabetes, a form of diabetes that comes on during pregnancy and usually disappears after the baby is born, have up to a 60 percent risk of developing diabetes within 10 to 20 years, Jacobson added.
The key is to delay the onset of type 2 diabetes for as long as possible, especially considering the "tsunami of diabetes" forecast to hit the United States, she said.
Diabetes in the U.S. has increased a whopping 382 percent from 1988 to 2014, with one in 10 people having diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. One out of four of them don't know they have it because they have no symptoms. If this trend continues, one in every three US adults will have diabetes by 2050.
Jacobson encourages anyone with diabetes risk factors to request a fasting blood-glucose test during his or her next doctor's visit or to at least request a prediabetes screening.
"If you do something before it gets worse, you can reverse its effects," Jacobson said. "So much of it is how well people take care of themselves."