For many years, scientists have known that diabetes affects men and women in different ways. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 34 million people in the United States have diabetes. Of these, 95% have type 2.
Type 2 diabetes has different risk factors and even shows differing symptoms in men and women. But what does the latest evidence say on how sex differences affect risk factors, prevalence, and the burden and complications of this disease?
What is Diabetes?
There are two main types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2. While they are different conditions, they are both serious. There are other rarer types of diabetes as well. However, All types have in common that they cause the body to have too much glucose in the blood.
The body needs a certain amount of glucose to function normally; after all, glucose supplies the body with energy. The body manufactures glucose by breaking down carbohydrates taken in food and releasing it into the bloodstream.
A hormone called insulin made by the pancreas allows the glucose in the blood to enter the cells and fuel the body. In a normal body without diabetes, the pancreas detects glucose in the bloodstream and releases the appropriate amount of insulin required to get the glucose into the cells.
However, for a person with diabetes, the pancreas does not release the right amount of insulin required to make the system work. For patients with type 1, the body does not make insulin at all. For type 2, the pancreas either makes ineffective insulin or does not produce enough of it.
When glucose cannot get into the cells to be used as energy, it builds up in the bloodstream. Unfortunately, too much glucose in the bloodstream causes many problems in both men and women. These problems appear as diabetic symptoms.
What are Diabetes symptoms?
Here are the common symptoms of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes:
- Frequent urination, especially at night
- Unexplainable weight loss
- Constantly feeling hungry and thirsty
- Blurry vision
- Feeling numbness or tingling sensation on the hands or feet
- Lethargy and constantly feeling tired
- Dry skin
- Sores on the skin that heal very slowly
- Having more infections than usual
The symptoms of type 1 may also include stomach pains, nausea, and vomiting. These symptoms can develop fast - in just a few weeks or months - and can become severe. As a result, the symptoms of type 1 often begin to show when the patient is a child, teen, or young adult. Note, however, that the condition can start at any age.
The symptoms of type 2 may take time to show - often several years - and usually start in adulthood. Some people with this type may not experience any symptoms at all. However, the CDC has found that more children and teens are developing the condition earlier in life.
Is Diabetes More Problematic for Women than Men in 2021?
A study published in the Oxford University Press found that while men are almost twice as likely to develop type 2 as women, women have a higher likelihood of experiencing more complications than men.
Once women develop type 2, they are more likely to experience severe complications such as heart and kidney diseases, stroke, depression, and anxiety. One theory that explains this severity is that sex hormones play a role in the manifestation of the symptoms of diabetes.
According to the Medical News Today newsletter, female sex hormones, particularly estrogen, play a role in protecting the body against heart and kidney diseases. The high levels of glucose in the blood when the patient develops diabetes may impair the body's response to estrogen, thereby affecting the body's effectiveness in preventing these diseases.
Recent research has also shown a link between testosterone and diabetes, which may explain why the severity of the symptoms varies in men and women.
Testosterone is a vital hormone produced by men in large quantities during puberty. Women's bodies also produce this hormone in extremely small quantities to help maintain the balance of hormones in the body. The hormone also plays a role in the deposition of fats in the body.
The research found that men with lower testosterone levels are at a greater risk of developing type 2. It also found that women with high testosterone levels are at a greater risk of severe symptoms of diabetes.
Is Obesity the Leading Cause of Diabetes?
Obesity is the leading cause or risk factor for type 2 among adults in the United States, according to a CDC report. The report found that women with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 kg/m² are 28 times more likely to develop diabetes than women of normal weight. This risk rises to 93 times at 35 kg/m² BMI.
What is The Risk For Heart Disease in Diabetic Women?
Research by the CDC found that as many as 53% of black women and 32% of white women are obese in the United States. An article published in Healthline reveals that women with diabetes are as many as three to four times more likely to develop heart disease than women without diabetes.
What are Other Dangers for Women with Diabetes?
Women with diabetes have more to manage than men. This is because the risk of heart disease is about two times greater in women than men, according to the CDC. Women are also at great risk of diabetes-related complications, including kidney disease, blindness, and depression.
Other dangers women with diabetes have to look out for and manage include:
- Vaginal and oral yeast infections
- Vaginal thrush
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
When to See Your Doctor and Possible Treatments?
Type 2 is often diagnosed using a glycated hemoglobin test or A1C test. This is a blood test procedure that shows the average level of blood sugar over two to three months.
The American Diabetes Association recommends that you see a doctor to get tested for diabetes if:
- You are aged over 45 years old and show any symptoms of diabetes.
- You are younger than 45 years but are either overweight or obese and show one or more risk factors associated with diabetes.
- You have been diagnosed with prediabetes before.
- You have gestational diabetes.
- Your family has a history of type 2 or associated risk factors.
After diagnosis, your doctor may recommend more tests to ascertain the type of diabetes should the results return positive. This is because the two types of diabetes often require different treatments.
If you have type 2, the doctor will recommend various treatments to manage the condition. These include:
- Eating healthier
- Engaging in regular physical exercise
- Losing weight
- Monitoring your blood sugar levels
- Diabetes medication such as insulin therapy
Diabetes is clearly a bigger problem for women than men. Luckily, it is possible to detect the signs and symptoms of the condition early enough to manage it. If you have reason to suspect that you may be at risk of type 2 diabetes, take a proactive step and see your doctor today.