Did you know that 30 million people in the United States have diabetes? And that another 10 million people may be undiagnosed? That’s over 10% of the population!
Women, especially Hispanic, Asian, and African American women, are at particular risk. At Shenandoah Women’s Healthcare, we help all women take control of their health. That starts with education.
Today, we’ll share important facts, clear up common misconceptions, help you understand your risk, and much more.
Important Diabetes Facts
It is a serious condition that affects millions of people. It’s a leading cause of lost limbs, blindness, and other complications. However, modern medications and technology make it a manageable condition. Women with diabetes have run marathons and won Academy Awards. They can have children, great careers, and enjoy long happy, healthy lives.
It is a life-changing disease, but it can be managed and women with diabetes can reach their goals!
Much like cancer, diabetes is not a single disease. Let’s look at what it truly means to “have diabetes.”
What Does it Mean to “Have Diabetes”?
There are two main types of diabetes mellitus (the medical term for the disease). They are known appropriately enough as Type 1 & Type 2. These are very different conditions, with different causes and treatments.
Type 1 diabetes is sometimes known as “juvenile diabetes.” It is most commonly diagnosed in younger people. But Type 1 diabetes can be diagnosed at any age. However, the majority of diagnoses happen in younger men and women.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease (like multiple sclerosis or lupus). This is when the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells. In Type 1, the immune system “attacks” the insulin producing islet cells in the pancreas. This eventually stops the production of insulin.
Insulin is a hormone that regulates the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Glucose is like your body’s fuel. Insulin helps your body make use of that fuel. With Type 1, no insulin is produced in a person’s body. This leads to uncontrolled blood glucose levels from very high to very low. Both extremes have dangerous short-term and long-term consequences.
People who have Type 1 must monitor their glucose levels. They use man made insulin to manage their blood sugar. It is incurable but technological advancements and improved treatments have greatly improved the outcomes for patients with Type 1 diabetes in recent years.
Did You Know? Type 1 accounts for about 5-10% of all diagnoses.
Type 2 used to be called “adult-onset” diabetes. It was assumed that if an adult presented with symptoms of diabetes it must be Type 2. Now we know that isn’t always the case.
People with Type 2 still produce insulin. However, their bodies don’t use it properly, causing in high blood sugar levels. Most people with Type 2 manage their disease with changes to diet, exercise, and oral medications. Many will eventually begin using insulin as well.
Type 2 isn’t curable. However, it can be controlled and many of the symptoms and effects can be minimized by:
- Eating a healthy diet low in carbohydrates
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Getting lots of exercise
- Following instructions from your doctor
Gestational & LADA Diabetes
I know what you’re thinking, didn’t you say there were only 2 types? Yes, but there are other types that are less common. Some aren’t even fully understood yet!
Most common of these is gestational diabetes. This occurs only in pregnant women, often after the 24th week of pregnancy. Gestational diabetes may be a temporary condition that resolves itself after birth. It is still very serious and expectant mothers should work closely with their doctor to manage blood sugar levels throughout pregnancy.
LADA diabetes is most similar to Type 1. It is an autoimmune form of diabetes, but one that progresses rather slowly. It presents in adulthood, while most cases of Type 1 are diagnosed in childhood. LADA diabetes is sometimes known as Type 1.5 because it has characteristics of the 2 more common types of the disease.
Who is At Risk?
All women need to be aware of their risk.
While Type 1 diabetes can happen to anyone, some research suggests that it is more common in people who have a family history of autoimmune disease.
Type 2 is more common in:
- People who are overweight
- People with an unhealthy diet
- People who are inactive and who live a sedentary lifestyle
- Older people
The Dangers of Diabetes
Uncontrolled high blood sugar can lead to serious health problems, including:
- Blindness or other vision problems.
- Circulation problems. It is the leading cause of non-traumatic amputations.
- Cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks.
- Neuropathy, resulting in pain or numbness often in the extremities.
- Damage to the kidneys.
- Diabetic ketoacidosis, a rapidly progressing and extremely dangerous buildup of ketones in the blood.
Extreme low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) is extremely dangerous and can lead to coma and death.This is most common in Type 1 diabetes or Type 2 treated with insulin or oral medications that stimulate insulin production like glipizide.
Assess Your Risk
Talk with your doctor at your annual health exam. At SWHC, our practitioners will monitor your overall health to check for changes. They will use blood tests to check your blood glucose levels. Depending on the results, additional tests may be used to make a diagnosis or further evaluate your risk.
Throughout the year, be on the lookout for these symptoms:
- Excessive thirst and frequent urination– often resulting in black mold in your toilet
- Unexplained weight loss, even if you’re eating a lot
- Blurry vision
- Fatigue, rapid heartbeat, and fast shallow breathing
If you experience one or more of these symptoms, get checked out! Early detection is key to getting the disease under control and minimizing its dangerous effects.
- Oral Medications – Pills like Metformin are often the first step in controlling Type 2. These medicines prevent your liver from releasing too much glucose into your bloodstream.
- Injectable Non-Insulin Medications – New medications intended for people with Type 2. These medicines help your pancreas release more insulin when needed.
- Injectable Insulin – Required for Type 1. There are long and short acting insulins, both of which can help control Type 2 as well.
- Exercise & Diet – While exercise and diet alone can’t cure or “reverse” any form of diabetes, they can help you have better control over their blood sugar.
Resources For Women With Diabetes
If you’re diagnosed, it can be tough at first. You may need to make major changes to your diet and lifestyle. With the help of a strong support team, including healthcare providers and loved ones, you can live a happy, healthy, long life.
Below are some great resources that many women with diabetes find helpful!
Exercise can help you manage your blood sugar and lose weight. But remember to ask your doctor before starting on any new exercise program!
Recipes & Food Options
General Tips, Inspiration, Advice & Support
Have Questions? We Can Help!
Do you have more questions about your risk? Make an appointment at Shenandoah Women’s Healthcare and ask one of our experienced women’s health practitioners. Call (540) 438-1314 or contact us online.
We’re here to help!