Diabetes During Menopause

By: Red Hot Mamas

Published: May 26, 2010

American Diabetes alert day is March 22. The fourth Tuesday of this month will be designated by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) to raise awareness of the seriousness of diabetes. They provide a test on their website to determine whether you are at risk. The test takes less than five minutes to complete and is available online (http://www.diabetes.org/risk-test.jsp). The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) suggests women ages 45 years and older should screen for diabetes every three years. If you have high blood pressure or a family history of the disease, you are at greater risk. According to the ADA, diabetes is a silent disease that you may not even know you have. Actually, most people who have diabetes do not event notice any symptoms.

Approximately 9.1 million (8.9%) of all women in the U.S. have diabetes. Your risk for diabetes increases as you age, gain too much weight, or if you do not stay active. Diabetes is a disease that affects the body’s ability to produce or respond to insulin, a hormone that allows glucose (blood sugar) to enter the cells of the body and be used for energy. There are three types of diabetes:

  • Gestational Diabetes: Develops only during pregnancy. Women who have had gestational diabetes have a 20-50% chance of developing Type 2 diabetes within 5 to 10 years.
  • Type 1 Diabetes: An autoimmune disease that accounts for 5-10% of diagnosed diabetes in the US.
  • Type 2 Diabetes: The most common form of diabetes (90-95% of people with diabetes have this type) usually associated with older age, obesity, family history of diabetes, physical inactivity and ethnicity.

The good news is preventing type 2 diabetes from ever developing is possible! With Type 2 diabetes, the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin. The body needs insulin to use sugar by taking it from the blood into the cells. When the body cannot deliver enough glucose to the cells, it builds up and causes problems.

During the onset of menopause, the production of estrogen and progesterone decline. As these hormones fluctuate, maintaining glucose control may be difficult. Greater insulin sensitivity accompanies dropping progesterone levels. Increased insulin resistance can also occur with dropping estrogen levels. Also, for many women weight gain is an issue that comes with aging further contributing to the development of diabetes and other complications. The combination of menopause and diabetes may affect sexual functioning including the ability to become aroused and experience orgasm. Problems may include vaginal dryness, bacterial and yeast infections of the vagina and urinary tract infections.

Symptoms of diabetes may appear harmless but early detection can decrease the chance of further development. Diabetes symptoms include:

  • Frequent urination- passing large amounts of urine often
  • Excessive thirst
  • Extreme hunger
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Increased fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Blurry vision
  • Frequent or severe urinary tract infections

If you experience any of these symptoms, please see your healthcare professional. It is important not to mistake menopausal symptoms (i.e., hot flashes, moodiness, etc.) for symptoms of low blood sugar. If you incorrectly assume this, you may consume unnecessary calories to raise your blood sugar when in fact, you don’t need to. To manage both diabetes and menopause, you can measure your blood sugar frequently. Work with your doctor to adjust diabetes medications, consider adding a cholesterol lowering drug and get help for your menopausal symptoms.

Preventing or delaying type 2 diabetes is possible through proper exercise and nutrition. You need at least 1/2 hour of exercise per day. Recent studies have shown that when participants walked vigorously for 30 minutes a day 5 days per week and also lost 5-7% of their total body weight, they cut their risk of developing diabetes by 50%. Exercise lowers blood sugar levels and keeps it down for several hours preventing diabetes. Approximately 80% of diabetics are overweight. Excess weight has been shown to contribute to the development of diabetes. Exercising and losing weight are excellent preventative measures. Proper nutrition is important for prevention. Avoid eating trans fats (hydrogenated vegetable oils), sugars, bleached (white) flour and other refined carbohydrates (white rice and dry cereals). Eat plenty of fiber (raw fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, oatmeal). DO NOT smoke or drink. Both contribute to the development of diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes may increase your risks for many other complications including:

  • Heart disease and stroke (more than 65% of people with diabetes die from heart disease or stroke)
  • Kidney disease
  • Eye complications
  • Neuropathy and nerve damage
  • Foot complications
  • Skin complications
  • Gastroparesis
  • Depression

Women with diabetes have can have their disease under control. They may be monitored frequently by a health care team knowledgeable in the care of diabetes. Through self-education, we can be aware of our risks and make the right decisions to control diabetes at menopause. We urge you on March 22, Diabetes Alert Day, to explore diabetes further by visiting one of the following websites. There is no better way to raise your awareness than by screening!

Informative websites: