Diabetes doesn’t discriminate – the condition affects both men and women. But some symptoms that often appear before a doctor makes a diagnosis are reserved for just one of the sexes. As such, all ladies should know the warning signs that only they can experience. And some of them are quite subtle and surprising, too.
According to the Office on Women’s Health, around 15 million American females have diabetes. And roughly nine percent of the entire U.S. population deals has the condition. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 7.2 million Americans have no idea that they are living with diabetes.
Some people are oblivious to the warning signs of diabetes; after all, a number of them are not necessarily concerning. This is especially true for women – who have their own set of warning signs when it comes to diabetes. So, learning them could help safeguard your health.
In general, diabetes is a condition which causes your blood sugar – also called blood glucose – to reach an unsafely high level. But blood glucose itself is a good thing for you in the right amounts. The food you eat provides your body with glucose which, in turn, is used to create the energy you need to power through the day.
In order for glucose to become energy, it has to be stripped from the food you eat and then taken to your cells. A hormone called insulin does this job; the pancreas should make enough of this hormone to go around but, sometimes, the body stops producing it. And this leaves glucose in the blood, rather than it filtering into the cells.
But having too much sugar in the blood can be seriously dangerous for your health. One major side effect would be diabetes – including both types one and two. These diagnoses vary in that they’re typically handed down at different points in a patient’s life, although diabetes can happen to anyone at any age.
Firstly, there’s type one diabetes – which occurs in people whose bodies simply cannot produce insulin. Instead, the immune system wrongfully attacks the pancreas-based cells assigned to making the hormone. And because of this, type one diabetes is a more common diagnosis for children and young adults with the condition.
Then, there’s type two diabetes – which occurs when the body either fails to use insulin properly or does not produce enough of it. This iteration can also appear at any age, but it tends affect middle-aged and older adults most often. It’s also much more common than type one diabetes.
There are common characteristics that link those likely to have type two diabetes. Most of the time, patients are over 45 years old, tend to have a family history of the condition, or they measure in at an unhealthy weight. And some other factors can also help type two to develop – such as high blood pressure or physical inactivity.
Treatment for diabetes varies depending on the categorization and severity of each patient’s condition. Type one will always require a person to take routine insulin injections – since their bodies do not produce the hormone at all. Type two typically worsens with time, so insulin may not be required immediately.
Furthermore, anyone with diabetes should take precautions to safeguard their health against other tangential health conditions. A balanced diet and frequent exercise can neutralize a person’s blood sugar. And regular glucose readings can show a diabetes patient that they have healthy levels of the sweet stuff in their systems.
Maintaining the right amount of glucose in the blood can prevent major health problems down the line, too. High levels can lead to nerve damage, dental disease and eye problems. In addition, excessive amounts of blood sugar can cause kidney disease, heart disease and strokes.
The aforementioned side effects make it vital for people to receive and understand a diabetes diagnosis as soon as possible. However, as previously mentioned, over seven million people in the U.S. alone aren’t aware that they have the condition. And that may have to do with the fact that they don’t know the common warning signs.
Some symptoms affect both men and women who have diabetes lurking in their systems. For starters, those with the condition find themselves regularly having to run to the bathroom. It’s a defense mechanism that your body puts up as it starts to feel an excess of sugar building up. Forcing you to urinate flushes out the sweetness – even if temporarily.
So, those with undiagnosed diabetes may realize that they’ve been running to the bathroom more often. Sometimes, those trips come without a big drink, either. And, if you’re waking up in the middle of the night to relieve yourself, that could be your first inkling that you have the condition.
A second warning sign goes hand-in-hand with frequent bathroom breaks: extreme thirst. It makes sense, given that regular trips to the toilet have you quite literally flushing hydration from your system. You can also pinpoint dehydration by checking your weight – since it might drop unexpectedly with the loss of so much water.
More than half of people with type two diabetes also have something called neuropathy, according to a Diabetes Care review in 2017. This condition gives you that tingly, pins-and-needles feeling in your feet, hands, legs or arms. It’s linked to diabetes because it can affect circulation – which adversely affects nerves and blood vessels. Simply put, your limbs will start to fall asleep more often than ever before.
You may not think to link underlying diabetes with bad breath, but the latter can be a sign of the former. If you’re constantly dehydrated, then your mouth will be too dry to wash away the bad-smelling bacteria that lingers. Water also helps balance out your mouth’s pH – which keeps things fresh, too.
Spiked glucose levels can actually cause bad breath in more ways than one. Without insulin, the body cannot process glucose for energy. So, it improvises and starts to burn fat to fuel you instead – a process called ketosis. One of its byproducts – a chemical called a ketone – can also have an unpleasant scent.
Another potential diabetes symptom is that your injuries refuse to heal. Perhaps you’ve had a cut or bruise that won’t heal up or fade away. It all comes back to the lack of sensation in your limbs – the same one that makes hands and feet feel like they’ve fallen asleep. And without feeling in these areas, you might not notice when you’re hurt.
Furthermore, unchecked diabetes could mean that you have injuries that you’re unaware of – due to the fact that you can’t feel them. And of course, cuts and bruises which you don’t know about won’t be cleaned or cared for. But diabetes can also prevent proper healing in wounds you know about, too. That’s because a boosted amount of blood sugar creates an environment in which bacteria thrives.
Diabetes patients who also have high blood pressure and high cholesterol struggle with healing in particular. Altogether, these conditions constrict the blood vessels – which slows down blood flow. And with blood unable to reach the spot in need of circulation, the healing process can take longer.
Unchecked diabetes can also make you feel incredibly sluggish – regardless of how much shut-eye you’re getting. Again, this comes back to the body’s inability to process glucose. Without insulin to process it, you no longer have blood-based sugar as a source of energy throughout the day.
Dehydration can also make you feel tired – and, as we’ve covered, it can give you an unquenchable thirst is a side-effect of diabetes. Of course, it could just be your diet or unmanaged stress causing you to feel exhausted. So, consider any other possible causes before landing on diabetes as the root of your sleepiness.
Men and women with undiagnosed diabetes should also evaluate their eyesight. Namely, their vision becomes blurry – all because of the heightened amount of sugar in their systems. As the amount of sweet stuff increases, it can cause fluid to form over a person’s eye which begets nearsightedness. Rather than having a diabetes test, many patients often mistakenly head to their optometrist for an eye exam instead.
We’ve also already mentioned the fact that your body will start burning up its other resources for energy when insulin doesn’t work for glucose-processing. As it starts to burn off fat and even muscle for fuel, you could lose a lot of weight unexpectedly. And in the most significant cases, people can lose between ten and 20 pounds.
Male and female diabetics can sometimes also experience sexual dysfunction. It is an especially well-documented side-effect in men, although women deal with it, too. Specifically, they lack desire or sensation, or they may feel dryness or discomfort during the act.
Both men and women might note patches of dark skin appearing in the body’s creases – such as at the back of the neck. And, finally, an unchecked case of diabetes can cause you to be irritable. And considering all of the uncomfortable side effects listed above, it’s understandable that a person might feel grumpy.
While this list of conditions covers both men and women’s diabetes warning signs, there are some symptoms specific to ladies only. Both sexes may have itchy skin because of diabetes – poor circulation and dry patches included. But women are more prone to dealing with yeast infections because of their blood sugar levels.
A 2014 study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information found a link between type two diabetes and yeast infections. Apparently, women diagnosed with the former were at a higher risk of developing the latter. The reason for the link was not clarified by the study. But considering the fact that diabetes indicates an abundance of sugar in the blood, there could be an easy explanation.
Simply put, yeast thrives on sugar. And without a handle on your diabetes, glucose levels can rise. This gives the fungus a lot to feed on, which means it can grow and spread in the vaginal zone – leading to a yeast infection
Another female-centric side effect of diabetes is a urinary tract infection (UTI). In general, women experience the latter condition ten times as often as men do, according to the website Diabetes Self-Management. On top of that, more than half of the female population will have a UTI once in their lifetimes, while a quarter will deal with recurring infections.
Those aforementioned stats cover women without diabetes, though, and a type two diagnosis boosts your chances of developing a UTI. One study quoted by the website found that those with the blood glucose condition were 60 percent more likely to get an infection than their healthy counterparts. Another set of researchers found that nine percent of their test subjects with diabetes had UTIs – compared to the six percent of those sans diabetes.
There are multiple explanations for the link between diabetes and UTIs. For starters, weak circulation could be a factor. Without blood pumping as it should, white blood cells cannot reach the site of a potential infection. It is their job to ward off such unwanted elements in the body so, without them, a UTI can develop more easily.
Some women with diabetes have trouble completely emptying their bladders, too. If urine lingers in the organ for too long, it allows bacteria and infection to fester. As such, it’s easy for a UTI to develop in diabetic women, and it could happen repeatedly.
Finally, women with type two diabetes may have to contend with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This condition causes cysts to grow on the ovary’s surface – most of which encompass undeveloped eggs. As such, many women with PCOS have irregular cycles and struggle to conceive if and when they want to get pregnant.
Like diabetes, PCOS stems from the body’s improper use of insulin. When the body creates more of the hormone – to make up for its resistance to it – the ovaries sense that they should boost production of testosterone. Having that in the system signals to the body that it shouldn’t ovulate as planned, and this causes women a slew of painful personal problems.
The insulin imbalances that cause PCOS seem to explain its link to diabetes. On top of that, at least one piece of research has solidified this link. A 2012 study by Cardiff University in the U.K. found that women with PCOS had a much higher chance of developing type two diabetes than their relatively healthier counterparts.
Diabetes is a difficult diagnosis for men and women, but it’s not an impossible one with which to deal. Instead, as previously mentioned, you can boost your physical health through exercise and healthy eating. Some patients will also require insulin shots or other medication to stay balanced and well.
In the end, though, such efforts are worth the time – you can avoid feeling many of the warning signs above. So it’s important to keep such surprising symptoms in mind in case you start feeling chronically under the weather. It could be diabetes on the horizon and, now, you know what to do to help yourself.