Actress Halle Berry, singer Patti LaBelle, tennis legend Billie Jean King, and author Anne Rice are just several of the more than 12 million American women living with diabetes. This disease, which changes the way the body uses sugar, can increase a woman’s chances of having a heart attack or stroke and raise her chances of having a miscarriage or a baby with birth defects. But by understanding how diabetes affects her health throughout her life, a woman with diabetes may avoid serious complications and be healthy and active.
Women at increased risk for developing diabetes are those who are overweight, do not exercise, have high blood pressure, have a family history of the disease, had a baby that weighed nine pounds or more at birth, or are African American, Native American, Hispanic, or Asian/Pacific Islander. Diabetes can affect many areas of a woman’s life, including:
Women with diabetes should talk with their doctor about which birth control method would work best for them. They can take birth control pills, which contain very low levels of estrogen, but they may need to adjust their insulin. Hormone implants and injections provide birth control over a longer period of time, but may affect diabetes control. An intrauterine device is usually not recommended because it could increase the risk of infection. Foam, condoms or a diaphragm work well when used consistently.
The high levels of estrogen and progesterone that tend to build up about a week before menstruation could interfere with insulin sensitivity in some women. If blood sugar levels are high a week before each period, counter-measures such as more exercise and fewer carbohydrates may be necessary. However, if blood sugar tends to drop during this time, less exercise and more carbohydrates could be needed.
Women with diabetes will need to work hard to control blood glucose levels while they are pregnant to avoid possible complications, such as premature delivery, miscarriage, birth defects, macrosomia (a large baby) and respiratory distress syndrome. Women with type 1 diabetes who inject insulin can still do so because it does not cross the placenta and is safe for the baby. Women with type 2 diabetes may not be able to take diabetes pills to control blood glucose because oral medications can cross the placenta to the unborn baby. They may need to switch to insulin. Women who develop gestational diabetes typically can manage their condition through proper meal planning and exercise.
Having diabetes during menopause can cause changes in blood sugar levels, weight gain, infections, sleep problems and sexual problems. Women need to eat healthy foods and exercise regularly, measure blood sugar frequently, adjust diabetes medications as advised by a physician, seek help for menopausal symptoms, and ask a doctor about taking cholesterol-lowering drugs to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.
By understanding how to control diabetes, women can feel better and live longer – during every period of their lives. Learn about your personal risk factors for diabetes, visit DoctorsHospitalDallas.com/DiabetesRisk for our online risk assessment.
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