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The Highs and Lows of Diabetes for Women

Diabetes can be particularly hard on WOMEN, but if you eat healthy, control your weight, and have frequent physical activity you can rise above the challenges that you may face.

Diabetes currently affects over 420 million people in the world. Many studies have stated the expectation for these rates to increase rapidly in the next ten years. According to CDC.gov, of the 38 million Americans who suffer from diabetes, 13 million are women. The risk of heart disease, the most common complication of diabetes, is more severe when it comes to women and the problems that they face. Among people with diabetes who have had a heart attack, women have lower survival rates and a poorer quality of life than men.

Women with diabetes have a shorter life expectancy than women without diabetes, and women are at greater risk of blindness from diabetes than men. Death rates for diabetic women aged 25-44 years are more than 3 times the rate for women without diabetes. Diabetic women can experience depression twice as often as men and have less interest in sex because of exhaustion and irritation (American Diabetes Association). The scariest part of this is that roughly a third of the women don’t even know it yet.

“Diabetes is an all-too-personal time bomb which can go off today, tomorrow, next year, or 10 years from now – a time bomb affecting millions like me and the children here today.“

—Mary Tyler Moore

Diabetes and Minority Women

Racial and ethnic minorities, defined as American Indians and Alaska Natives, black or African Americans, Hispanics or Latinos, and Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders, have a higher prevalence and greater burden of diabetes compared to whites, and some minority groups also have higher rates of complications. Despite medical advances and increasing access to medical care, disparities in health and health care still persist (US National Library of Medicine/ National Institutes of Health).

 An unknown fact about diabetes is that African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, and Asian/Pacific Islander women are at least 2-4 times more likely to develop diabetes than white women. The risk also increases with age. Because of the increasing lifespan of women and the rapid growth of minority populations, the number of women in the United States at high risk for diabetes is rapidly increasing. Women are often influential in affecting behavior change in their own children and families, so putting the focus on them for the prevention is becoming more of a known practice (CDC.gov).

“While approximately one in every 400 children and adolescents have Type I diabetes; recent Government reports indicate that one in every three children born in 2000 will suffer from obesity, which as noted is a predominant Type II precursor.

—Tim Holden

Diabetes and Pregnancy

According to Diabetes.Org, “Diabetes can be especially hard on women. The burden of diabetes on women is unique, because the disease can affect both mothers and even their unborn children. Diabetes is also known to cause difficulties during pregnancy; such as miscarriages or a baby born with birth defects.”

Women who do not currently have diabetes are still vulnerable to gestational diabetes during their pregnancy. Gestational diabetes develops in 2% to 5% of all pregnancies but eventually disappears after the pregnancy. Women who have had gestational diabetes or have given birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds are at an increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life. With the right exercise and a healthy meal plan, women can overcome these obstacles that are faced from diabetic complications.

“I do not love to work out, but if I stick to exercising every day and put the right things in my mouth, then my diabetes just stays in check.”

—Halle Berry

Women who suffer from diabetes often experience extreme difficulties during pregnancy. These can consist of miscarriages and also birth defects. If exposed to diabetes inside the womb, the baby has a higher risk of obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Because of diabetic complications a baby can possibly gain weight inside the womb, making the delivery process extremely dangerous. If you have never been diagnosed with high blood sugar, but you were during pregnancy, then you experienced Gestational Diabetes. According to a recent study by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 9% of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes. Although most women who suffer from gestational diabetes recover after pregnancy, there are still around 15% of women who will be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, if they don’t initiate a lifestyle change.

“One of the main implications is that genes are not destiny. What we eat [and] what we do can modify how our genes are expressed or activated.”

—Frank Hu, MD, MPH, PhD