Women's Guide to Diabetes

If you're a woman with diabetes, you face different concerns than men dealing with the same disease. Some issues stay with you no matter how old you are. Others will change as you enter each life stage, from puberty, through your childbearing years, and on to retirement.


Educate Yourself

All people with diabetes -- men and women, young and old -- want to delay or prevent diabetes-related complications. However, the way each person addresses that concern is different. Particularly for women, who go through more hormonal changes that affect diabetes care.

A woman with diabetes can stay healthy through all of life's stages. The key is to educate yourself with up-to-date information, regularly eat balanced meals, stay active, and have medical checkups to ensure that you're managing your diabetes as well as possible. This special report is a guide for women with diabetes to help you get through each stage with confidence and grace.

At Any Age

Overall, the key to staving off complications from diabetes is good blood glucose control and good blood pressure control. Diabetes-related complications that affect women throughout their life include these:

  • Heart Disease: "Heart disease is a major risk for women with diabetes, particularly if they've had diabetes for many years, are over 40, smoke, or have hypertension, elevated cholesterol, kidney disease, or a strong family history," says Florence Brown, M.D., of the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. The best way to prevent heart disease for people with diabetes at any age is:

  • control blood glucose

  • eat healthfully

  • exercise

  • reduce blood pressure and cholesterol

  • Vaginal Issues: Be prepared for more frequent yeast, vaginal, or bladder infections caused by high blood sugar. Keep a supply of over-the-counter medications to alleviate symptoms early. Seek prompt medical care if an infection occurs.

  • Depression: Recognize that feelings of depression can affect your sexual enjoyment. Talk to a health care professional about ways to develop a more positive outlook.

Puberty and Adolescence

Big-Picture Issues: "We're seeing more types of diabetes now in younger patients," says Lorena Lewy-Alterbaum, M.D. F.A.C.E., an endocrinologist with a private practice in Florida. Most young women who have type 2 diabetes are overweight, and many can claim at least one parent who has the disease.

Possible Complications: During puberty, diabetes can become difficult to manage and may cause problems beyond abnormal blood glucose levels.

For girls with type 2 diabetes:

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome, which causes ovaries to enlarge and develop cysts, can be a problem.

  • Hormone levels and glucose levels fluctuate more.

  • High blood pressure and abnormal blood fat levels can be a problem.

"Often girls with type 2 diabetes have polycystic ovaries and irregular periods that have been induced by their obesity and insulin resistance," Lewy-Alterbaum says.

How to Prevent Complications: For girls with type 1 diabetes, maintaining good glucose control starting now (or even earlier) can help prevent or delay complications later in life.

For girls with type 2 diabetes, reaching a healthy weight through a healthful diet and exercise plan can prevent complications and further progression of the disease.

Once a young woman begins to ovulate, her hormone pattern should be fairly consistent. Blood sugar levels can rise two to five days before a young woman's period.