Diabetes Decoded: What Women Should Know

You have so much to manage, not only for yourself, but also for the people who count on you at work and home. If you have or are at risk for diabetes, however, managing your blood sugar levels should be your top priority. That’s because women face unique challenges related to diabetes. Fortunately, with your healthcare provider’s help, you have what it takes to control this common chronic disease. 

What’s Your Type? 

“Diabetes is definitely on the rise in men and women,” says Laura Alonso, M.D., chief of the Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism at Weill Cornell Medicine and  E. Hugh Luckey Distinguished Professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, and an attending physician at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “Type 1 diabetes is increasing, but most of the increase that we see is related to gestational diabetes and Type 2 diabetes.” 

How do the major types of diabetes differ? 

  • Type 1 diabetes occurs when your body doesn’t make insulin, which is a hormone that helps sugar in your blood move into cells to become energy. 
  • Type 2 diabetes is a condition in which your body underproduces or can’t use insulin as intended. 
  • Gestational diabetes develops during pregnancy and increases your risk for Type 2 diabetes in the future. 

Know Your Risk Factors 

Excess body weight is the most significant risk factor for Type 2 diabetes, which is far more common than Type 1. With too much fat tissue, insulin struggles to help glucose enter the cells, and it builds up in the blood instead. 

Other Type 2 diabetes risk factors include: 

  • Family history of diabetes 
  • Having had a baby that weighed at least nine pounds 
  • Having had gestational diabetes 
  • Having reached menopause 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Unhealthy cholesterol levels 

What Does Diabetes Mean for Women’s Health? 

Diabetes is linked to many other health conditions that affect women. Women with diabetes, for example, are four times likelier to have heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Office on Women’s Health reports, that compared with men, women with diabetes are more likely to develop depression. 

Diabetes in women can also lead to: 

  • Difficulty getting pregnant 
  • Higher risks for yeast and urinary tract infections 
  • Preeclampsia—high blood pressure complication of pregnancy 
  • Reduced interest in sex 

You Can Manage 

“Early on, people are often able to control diabetes by changing their diet and exercise habits,” Dr. Alonso says. “As diabetes progresses, however, it becomes harder to control using diet and exercise. Eventually, most people with diabetes eventually need medications, and I’m very happy with the way the field is going with respect to diabetes medications.” 

Dr. Alonso says, many current diabetes medications not only reduce blood sugar, but also help patients lose weight. In addition, tools such as continuous glucose monitors and automated insulin pumps allow patients to track and manage their blood sugar levels in real time. Your primary care provider or endocrinologist can help you make a diabetes management plan. 

“We have really great tools now that we didn’t have five or 10 years ago,” Dr. Alonso says. “That’s why it’s worth going to talk with your doctor, find out if you have prediabetes or diabetes, and get on the right track.” 

Looking for an expert to help you manage diabetes? Find a doctor at Weill Cornell Medicine. 

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