Although women are no more likely than men to get diabetes, they are at greater risk for complications should they develop the disease. That’s why gaining tight control of diabetes—by exercising, eating healthy, testing blood sugar levels and taking medication—is extra important for women with the disease. What’s more, all women should be aware of the symptoms of diabetes and see their doctors if they suspect they have a problem.
All people with diabetes are at increased risk for heart disease, but women with the disease have a two to four times greater risk of heart attack, congestive heart failure or other heart condition compared to nondiabetic women. Some evidence shows that these women have extra estrogen in the bloodstream, suggesting that the hormone isn’t carrying out its normal cardioprotective duties.
Diabetes is also linked to these major risk factors for heart disease:
- Obesity. On average, women with diabetes are more obese than nondiabetic women. Extra weight forces the heart to work harder and decreases the amount of oxygen that goes to the heart. (Note: Excess weight increases a woman’s chance of developing diabetes if she doesn’t already have it.)
- Cholesterol. Diabetes seems to lower women’s levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good,” cholesterol. Since HDL cholesterol helps clear artery-clogging low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad,” cholesterol from the body, a reduction in HDL raises a woman’s risk for heart disease.
- High blood pressure. Women with diabetes tend to have higher blood pressure than nondiabetic women.
To help control these factors and keep blood sugar levels in check, women with the condition should follow the nutritional and exercise plan recommended by their doctors. In addition, women who have diabetes and smoke should make every effort to extinguish the habit. Smoking can double a woman with diabetes’ already high risk of heart disease by narrowing blood vessels and encouraging blood clots.
If you are nearing menopause and have diabetes, you may have noticed that no matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to control your glucose levels. Despite your best efforts, they rise and fall like a roller coaster. That’s because declining levels of estrogen and progesterone are playing havoc with your body’s ability to respond to insulin.
One strategy your doctor may recommend for stabilizing glucose levels is physical activity. Regular movement will counter the weight gain that may occur during menopause and helps the body use insulin more efficiently.