A woman’s body is a wonder with its complex interlinkages, and functioning. A woman’s life stages are more pronounced and distinct both physiologically and psychologically because they enable her to carry out the myriad roles she plays to perfection!
Each of these life stages comes with a unique complex mishmash of hormones, which women need to manage. We have heard about mood swings, aches and pains, and other symptoms brought on by hormonal changes.
However, with a metabolic condition like diabetes, which directly impacts hormone levels, it becomes even more important for women to take care of their physical and mental health.
90-95% of women with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. Only a small proportion of women may inherently have type 1 diabetes. This means that much of diabetes management is in your hands – manage your lifestyle from the outset, and you can prevent and control diabetes.
That’s good news! As a woman, you must simply put in efforts to understand how diabetes affects you at every life stage, and then take the necessary precautions.
1. Adolescence (10-17 years):
The onset of puberty is in itself a life-altering milestone as the body prepares to become mature re productively. Most cases of diabetes in this age group of 10-17 years are type 1 diabetes. These days, sedentary lifestyles and dependence on junk food is resulting in obesity and incidences of type 2 diabetes. Some of the complications arising from the resultant insulin resistance during adolescence are:
1. Polycystic ovary syndrome in which ovaries enlarge and develop cysts leading to irregular or no periods.
2. Hormone levels and glucose levels fluctuate more leading to eating disorders.
3. Abnormal blood fat levels may lead to high blood pressure and ketoacidosis (acid buildup in the blood).
4. By age 20 years, 40%-60% of people with type 1 diabetes have evidence of retinopathy, or diabetic eye disease.
The higher degree of physiological and psychological changes in puberty make diabetes management more difficult. At this stage, it is extremely important to extend girls the necessary support through a sustainable diabetes program.
2. Reproductive years (18-44 years):
This is the age bracket when most cases of type 2 diabetes are diagnosed. Sadly, many women do not even know that they have type 2 diabetes. Spreading awareness about regularly undergoing diabetes tests is thus critical to manage the condition.
1. Sexual health: 35% of women with diabetes may experience decreased or absent sexual response. Taking birth control pills means a dosage of hormones i.e., estrogen and progestin pills or progestin only, and can affect diabetes symptoms. Hence, they must be taken after a detailed discussion with your diabetes doctor and gynecologist. Other ways to alleviate the problem is by doing Kegel exercises.
2. Lower immunity due to poorly controlled blood glucose.
3. Frequent yeast, vaginal, or bladder infections.
4. Low self-esteem can result due to obesity or body-image concerns. It is important to consult a mental health practitioner to deal with the condition.
5. Pregnancy: A temporary fluctuation of hormones due to the placenta resulting in insulin resistance is called Gestational Diabetes. Even for pregnant women with type 2 diabetes or type 1 diabetes, other complications may arise:
a. Higher chances of abortions during the first trimester of pregnancy.
b. Onset or worsening of diabetic retinopathy (eye disease).
c. High blood pressure or kidney disease.
d. Worsening of depression or baby blues during and post pregnancy.
Many of these complications can be prevented by sticking to a sugar control program including healthy diet, regular exercise, and de-stressing activities.
Make sure you periodically undergo blood sugar tests, especially for gestational diabetes around 24 to 28 weeks in the pregnancy.
3. Mid age (45 – 64 years):
Nearly all women aged 45-64 years with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. During this period, the chances of coronary heart disease increases. Women with diabetes are three to seven times more likely to contract it. Other problems that go hand in hand with the onset of menopause are weight gain, hot flashes, changes in vaginal secretions, bone loss etc. Some doctors may suggest hormone replacement therapy to deal with menopause, but this has a consequence on insulin resistance, and hence must be given considerable thought. The good part is lifestyle changes made even at this age can help greatly in maintaining a healthy quality of life. Maintain a healthy Body Mass Index by exercising and eating healthy.
4. Older Age (65 years +):
Age is a factor that in conjunction with diabetes may invite a host of complications like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, eye-related problems like cataracts and glaucoma, hyperglycemia (extremely high blood sugar) or hypoglycemia (extremely low blood sugar), peripheral vascular disease, and depression. Taking good care of yourself and being honest about what is possible and what is not is important.
Despite these age-wise risk factors, the fact remains that diabetes as a condition can be very well managed with the right information and intent. In fact, it is completely in your hands to transition into a diabetes-friendly lifestyle with just a little attention and investment of time and effort. Curate a diabetes treatment plan that suits your lifestyle and preferences, and most importantly be consistent with it. That is more than half the job done, and you can live a happy and carefree life to your fullest productivity!