When it comes to women and diabetes, knowledge is power.
“Sometimes people don’t know the symptoms,” said Dr. Alvia Moid of the Diabetes Clinic at Kenosha Medical Center.
Diabetes often is associated with obesity, physical inactivity, gestational diabetes, and family history. But how it manifests in the 12.6 million women diagnosed with the disease can be surprising, and sometimes dangerously subtle.
Moid recommends any woman with a strong family history get regular blood tests, including a fasting plasma glucose test and an oral glucose tolerance test. However, even without a family history, women should pay attention to other red flags.
An increase in thirst and hunger, as well as more frequent urination and infections all can be warning signs.
“Frequent infections of any kind should be noticed, such as frequent yeast infections,” Moid cautioned.
Pregnancy presents its own unique set of risk factors.
If a woman has a strong family history, Moid advises a checkup to rule out diabetes before getting pregnant. On the other hand, “If a woman already has diabetes and wants to become pregnant, you want her blood sugar levels to be stable and very well controlled,” Moid explained. Unstable blood sugars can adversely affect organ development in a fetus.
A woman diagnosed with gestational diabetes has an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes over her lifetime.
An increased risk of heart disease is another area of concern. According to the American Heart Association, type 2 diabetes increases the risk of heart disease in premenopausal women. As the prevalence of type 2 diabetes increases, the risk of heart disease — the leading cause of death among women in the United States — does, too.
Given diabetes’ myriad of consequences, “preventive care is where patients and doctors should spend most of their time,” Moid said.
That begins with maintaining a healthy weight, eating a well-balanced diet and getting regular exercise. In recent years, researches also have found a link between low vitamin D levels and insulin resistance. Because overcoming insulin resistance is one way to prevent type 2 diabetes, getting enough of the “sunshine vitamin,” especially in northern latitudes like Wisconsin, could be beneficial.
There will be cases where genetics trump preventive measures, Moid said, but being proactive is a woman’s best defense.
“Stay informed and see your doctor regularly,” Moid said. Most importantly, “Get a copy of your blood work results and make sure you understand it.”