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OPINION: How Diabetes Affects Women

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Wednesday, May 25th, 2016
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Diabetes is a condition of high blood glucose levels in the blood. Women are affected by diabetes in multiple ways and have some problems different from men.

Studies suggest that a greater number of women with diabetes have maturity onset diabetes, i.e, diabetes that occurs due to relative insulin deficiency or body cells becoming resistant to insulin. Central obesity due to middle age and lack of exercise, self negligence, among others, are some of the factors which contribute to it. Studies suggest that phthalates present in body care products like body lotions and nail polish can also lead to diabetes.

Due to hormonal changes occurring during menstrual cycles, the blood glucose levels of a woman can fluctuate, in spite of taking anti diabetic medicines regularly and following dietary restrictions. Some women are prone to developing diabetes during pregnancy known as gestational diabetes. In some cases, the blood glucose returns to normal after delivery but in some, the affected women may continue to have diabetes. Women with diabetes suffer more from eating disorders and this may contribute to aggravation of diabetes.

As such, more women than men suffer from depression and risk of depression is said to be much more in those suffering from diabetes.

Women with diabetes are more prone than men to develop coronary artery disease particularly after menopause.

This happens due to the withdrawal of protective effects of hormone estrogen after menopause making them more prone to hypertension and heart diseases. Diabetes accelerates the process. A woman with diabetes has much greater risk of heart attack than a non diabetic.

A diabetic woman has increased susceptibility of developing fungal infections of the vagina, which manifests as itching over the genital parts. Dryness of the vagina due to menopause increases the discomfort. Along with susceptibility to other infections, women with diabetes in their reproductive years are more prone to develop various kinds of pelvic infections. This leads to chronic lower abdomen and backache with or without vaginal discharge.

Women are at greater risk of developing urinary tract infections due to short length of the urethra and blood loss during menstruation. Diabetes increases the risk much more.

The urinary bladder sphincter which helps control over bladder while voiding, becomes weak in women with age, due to multiple pregnancies and deliveries. This sometimes results in urinary incontinence. Affection of the involuntary nervous system due to diabetes further aggravates this problem. Affection of the pelvic muscles and nerves due to diabetes leads to vaginismus in women. Here a woman experiences tightening of the vaginal muscles and or pain in lower abdomen and pubic area.

Due to infections of the pelvic area, and damage to the nerves of the pelvic region, diabetic women often experience intercourse as painful, devoid of any pleasure. This makes them frigid.

Cervical spondylosis is a fairly common condition in middle aged and elderly women. Due to this, along with pain, a woman may experience abnormal sensations like tingling or numbness in limbs. Diabetes tends to damage the peripheral nerves and aggravates the suffering.

Diabetes does not affect the woman alone but also the children both unborn as well as born.

In case of a diabetic woman becoming pregnant, if the blood sugar remains high, there is a high risk of abortion.

Even if the pregnancy continues, the baby born may be grand in size and can have congenital defects. The overweight baby born is at greater risk of developing diabetes as he grows older.

Women should understand about diabetes and how it affects their overall health. Once diagnosed to be having diabetes, they should adhere regularly to the treatment and other measures prescribed.

Dr Rachna Pande is a specialist in internal medicine at Ruhengeri Hospital, Uganda.

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