By: Red Hot Mamas
Published: July 12, 2018
Contributed by Karen Giblin- Red Hot Mamas Expert
Diabetes is one of the fastest growing diseases in the world and in the USA. According to the CDC (Center for Diseases Control, based in Atlanta) 30.3 million people in the USA had diabetes in 2017 while 84.9 million (around 1 out of 3 Americans) had prediabetes!! Prediabetes is a serious health condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. Of those with prediabetes, 90% don’t know they have it. Diabetes can cause heart disease, blindness, kidney failure and lead to amputation. It can be a killer.
Understanding what diabetes does to your body and knowing what you need to do to manage it will allow you to reduce your risk of complications and allow you to live well.
There are three types of diabetes but in this article, I’ll focus on Type 2 Diabetes in women. For women gestational diabetes is important to know: it 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 occurs mainly in kids and they will need insulin for life.
In the US currently, at least 1 out of every 3 people will develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime. Each day more than 4,500 people are being diagnosed with diabetes.
After this introduction, I’ll begin to explain about women and diabetes. One of the questions that arise at menopause is whether menopause causes Type 2 Diabetes. Unfortunately, there are no randomized clinical trials looking at whether there is a link for women to develop Type 2 diabetes at menopause.
However, menopause will affect diabetes. The changes in hormonal levels may lead to blood glucose levels that are out of control. That coupled with weight gain at menopause, lack of physical activity, may set us up for type 2 diabetes.
Insulin is a hormone made by your pancreas that acts like a key to let blood sugar into the cells in your body for use as energy. If you have type 2 diabetes, cells don’t respond normally to insulin; this is called insulin resistance. Your pancreas makes more insulin to try to get cells to respond. Eventually your pancreas can’t keep up, and your blood sugar rises, setting the stage for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. High blood sugar is damaging to the body and can cause other serious health problems, such as heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease.
During the onset of menopause, the production of estrogen and progesterone decline. As these hormones fluctuate, maintaining glucose control may be difficult. Also, for many women weight gain is an issue that comes with aging further contributing to the development of diabetes and other complications.
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
- Blurry vision
- Frequent or severe urinary tract infections
If you experience any of these symptoms, please see your healthcare professional (HCP). To manage both diabetes and menopause, you should measure your blood sugar frequently. Work with your (HCP) to choose then adjust diabetes medications, consider adding a cholesterol lowering drug and get help for your menopausal symptoms.
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.
It is critical to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes. This is possible by losing weight, exercising and eating healthy. 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. Before you begin an exercise program, have a medical checkup. Talk to your HCP about the type of exercise you have in mind and whether or not is safe for you.
Approximately 80% of diabetics are overweight. Excess weight has been shown to contribute to the development of diabetes. Excess body weight makes your blood glucose levels more difficult to control. It also increases your blood pressure and increases your chances of developing diabetic complications. Exercising and losing weight are excellent preventative measures. Proper nutrition is important for prevention. Focus on reducing how much you eat; cutting back on saturated fats and cholesterol; eating healthy foods like fruits and vegetables; cutting back on salt; modifying your carbohydrate intake. And, DO NOT smoke or drink alcohol. Both contribute to the development of diabetes.
It is important not to mistake menopausal symptoms (i.e., hot flashes, moodiness, etc.) for symptoms of low blood sugar when you are using medications to lower 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.
Women with diabetes are also at risk of developing premature menopause and consequently increased risks of cardiovascular disease.
The North American Menopause Society (NAMS): www.menopause.org, suggests women ages 45 years and older should be screened for diabetes every three years.
The American Diabetes Associations website: www.diabetes.org has a test which will help you assess whether you are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
If you are a woman who has diabetes you should be monitored frequently by a health care team knowledgeable in the care of diabetes. Through self-education, you can be aware of your risks and make the right decisions to control diabetes at menopause.
What you can personally do at menopause if you have diabetes:
Monitor your blood glucose carefully. If you use medications to control your blood glucose, take them as prescribed. Make lifestyle choices that support healthy blood glucose levels. Examples of this are: exercising regularly, practicing stress management, and eating healthy. And, talk to your HCP about any changes occurring.
And, in closing, consider joining the Red Hot Mamas, www.redhotmamas.org. You can attend one of their programs held in local hospitals; or join their community forum on www.inspire.com. And, you receive our monthly e newsletter “The Menopause Minute”. Knowing you are not alone can make a difference in your health.
Here is a list of helpful resources:
American Diabetes Association (ADA)
American Dietetic Association