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Women with Diabetes: Understanding Risks and Making the Best Choices

Diabetes and its complications are still a leading cause of death and morbidity in the United States. According to the American Diabetes Association, another person is diagnosed with diabetes every 23 seconds, and another person dies from a diabetes complication every 2 minutes.(1)

While both men and women suffer from diabetes, diabetes is different in men and women. Compared to men, women are more likely to develop complications such as blindness, heart disease and heart attack, kidney disease and depression.(2 )

The burden of diabetes for women of color is also greater. Women of color are more likely to have diabetes than white women. Black women are about twice as likely to develop diabetes than white women.(3)

Because diabetes affects nerves, and nerves are all over the body, diabetes can cause damage and dysfunction to any part of the body. (

Why Is Diabetes So Debilitating?

Because diabetes affects your blood sugar and blood travels all over your body, diabetes can damage every organ and tissue in the body. This includes blood vessels, muscles, organs, and the nerves that help control your organs. (4) When diabetes affects the nerves, it is called neuropathy.

[Because diabetes affects nerves, and nerves are all over the body, diabetes can cause damage and dysfunction to any part of the body.]

For example, diabetes can affect the bladder and the nerves that control it. Women with diabetes may have difficulty emptying the bladder, leading to higher risk of urinary tract infections (UTI).

Stroke and heart attack are much more serious complications of diabetes. Because the excess sugar slows the flow of blood to the brain and heart, women with diabetes are at risk for suffering from strokes and heart attacks.

Choosing the right healthcare provider

Choosing the right healthcare provider is always important, but especially so for women with diabetes. Multiple studies have shown that women receive less intense care for diabetes as compared to men.(5, 6, 7 ). While working with the right healthcare provider, diabetes can be avoided, detected early, and successfully managed to avoid many of the most serious complications of diabetes.

Can Diabetes Affect My Period and Pregnancy? Answers on Reproductive Health and Diabetes

Having diabetes can affect reproductive health in women in many different ways, varying in severity from mild to life threatening.

Yeast infections are more common in women with diabetes due to elevated blood sugar levels. This sugar feeds the yeast which are usually at very low levels, until they overgrow and a yeast infection develops.

During your menstrual cycle, you may need to take extra caution. Fluctuating hormone levels during menstrual cycles can lead to unpredictable blood sugar levels, and you may need additional insulin at this time of the month. You may also experience more intense food cravings. Try your best to continue to make healthy food choices at the right times of day to combat food cravings. Have fresh fruit with a healthy fat or protein readily available to avoid snacking on salty, high sugar, highly processed snacks that can worsen blood sugar control and mood swings.

Having diabetes may make it harder to get pregnant. It may also affect the developing fetus by causing birth defects.

Gestational diabetes (diabetes in pregnancy) is a risk factor for giving birth to a large baby which may lead to a need for cesarean section (c-section). After delivery, baby’s blood sugar may drop to dangerously low levels. Miscarriage and stillbirth are also risks for women with gestational diabetes. Women with gestational diabetes are at higher risk for high blood pressure called preeclampsia.

Keeping blood sugar under control is the best way to avoid these complications.

Women Can Manage Diabetes Successfully

Making self-care a priority while navigating life with diabetes can certainly be a challenge. Women with diabetes need to remember that while they may be the primary caregivers or household leads, self-care will set the tone for the rest of their responsibilities. Balancing the needs of a family, work, and health, is essential to living your best life.

While diabetes can have wide ranging effects on the health, lifestyle and physical functioning of women, there is good news. Checking your blood sugar often, maintaining a healthy diet of mostly plants, grains, and legumes, and doing active movement or exercise 5 or more days each week are keys to successfully managing diabetes. To get or stay on track, some women may find it useful to engage the services of a lifestyle medicine doctor or women’s health dietitian with experience guiding women with diabetes to more healthy living.

Lifestyle medicine doctors and women’s health dietitians can help women reach their goals of prioritizing self-care, maintaining healthy blood sugar control, eating a balanced diet, and finding effective cardio and strength training exercises. They can help with adjusting and transitioning of medications while you improve your lifestyle. In some cases, they can also help you reverse type 2 diabetes.

For more information about working together with our women’s health dietitian or lifestyle medicine doctor, contact us today!


1. American Diabetes Association. Accessed October 17, 2022.

2. Pan, A., Lucas, M., Sun, Q., van Dam, R., Franco, O., Manson, J., … Hu, F. (2010). Bidirectional association between depression and type 2 diabetes mellitus in women. JAMA Internal Medicine, 170(21), 1884–1891.

3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2017). National diabetes statistics report, 2017.

4. Pop-Busui R, Boulton AJ, Feldman EL, et al. Diabetic neuropathy: a position statement by the American Diabetes Association. Diabetes Care. 2017;40(1):136–154.

5. Huxley R, Barzi F, Woodward M. Excess risk of fatal coronary heart disease associated with diabetes in men and women: Meta-analysis of 37 prospective cohort studies. BMJ. 2006; 332:73–8.

6. Wexler DJ, Grant RW, Meigs JB, Nathan DM, Cagliero E. Sex disparities in treatment of cardiac risk factors in patients with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2005; 28:514–20.

7. Natarajan S, Liao Y, Cao G, Lipsitz SR, McGee DL. Sex differences in risk for coronary heart disease mortality associated with diabetes and established coronary heart disease. Arch Intern Med. 2003; 163:1735–40.)


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