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Diabetes and Wellbeing: Does Diabetes Have a Gender-Wise Impact?

Written by Reshma Pathare on Thu, 22 December 2022 — Fact checked by Dr. Pramod Mane

Key Highlights

  • Type 2 diabetes is more prevalent in men than in women and could be due to more visceral fat in the former.
  • Men diagnosed with diabetes are less obese than their female counterparts.
  • Women are more susceptible to diabetes-related complications like heart disease, stroke, or kidney disease than men.
  • The impact of diabetes on mental health is more profound in women than in men. Hence, women with diabetes have a greater risk of developing depression.
  • The sexual health of both men and women appears to be adversely affected by diabetes. While diabetic men may have erectile dysfunction, diabetic women may experience vaginal dryness and decreased sexual drive.
  • Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to complications in pregnancy like high blood pressure, stillbirth, and cesarean delivery.
  • Women with type 2 diabetes have an increased chance of developing vaginal yeast infections and urinary tract infections.
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Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes. This condition occurs when the body cells resist insulin, a hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar levels. In this condition, the person has high blood sugar levels, the persistence of which can have detrimental effects on various organs and organ systems, especially the heart, eyes, kidneys, and nerves.

Type 2 diabetes management

The most common symptoms of type 2 diabetes in men and women are:

  • Increased hunger
  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue

Though type 2 diabetes can affect anyone, and factors like lifestyle choices and family history can increase one’s likelihood of developing it.

But did you know that diabetes does not treat men and women alike? In this article, let’s understand how diabetes & wellbeing are connected, and how diabetes has a gender-wise impact. Listed below are a few unique ways in which this condition affects men and women:

Men or women: who is more prone to diabetes?

Type of body fat

Research suggests that men are more likely to have diabetes than women. This difference could be attributed to the difference in the type of fat in men and women. Men have more visceral fat deposited around their abdominal area, whereas women tend to have more subcutaneous fat on the hips and legs.

Studies reveal a strong association between visceral fat and the long-term risk of type 2 diabetes. This could be why men are more at risk of developing diabetes than women.

Obesity

Another significant gender-related difference was revealed in a 2011 study in which men diagnosed with diabetes were reported to be less obese than their female counterparts. BMI stands for the body mass index, and a BMI of 30 or more indicates that the person is obese.

Men in the study had an average BMI of 32, whereas women had 34. Thus, even if a man has a lower BMI than a woman in the same age range, he would have a higher chance of developing diabetes than her.

Behavioral changes

A study showed that the difference in the prevalence of diabetes is due to the difference in behaviors like:

  • Alcohol consumption
  • Dietary choices
  • Sugar intake
  • Smoking

Diabetes and your heart and kidneys

Studies state that women are more likely to develop diabetes-related complications than men. These complications can be either heart disease, stroke, or kidney disease.

According to one theory, the increased risk of long-term consequences of type 2 diabetes in women could be due to the reduced protective effects of estrogen.

Estrogen is the female sex hormone that protects women from several conditions like heart disease and kidney disease. When the blood sugar levels are high in uncontrolled diabetes, estrogen cannot function effectively, increasing the risk of heart disease or kidney-related complications.

Diabetes & mental health

Studies show that diabetes has a significant association with anxiety.8 The blood sugar levels rise when the person is more anxious. So, keeping diabetes under control becomes difficult for those with anxiety. Women with type 2 diabetes have a higher chance of having depression than men. Depression in women could be due to psychological stress because of personal or professional reasons or the result of the quality of life due to diabetes itself.12,13 Therefore, women with diabetes are more impacted than men in terms of their mental health.

women with type 2 diabetes

Diabetes & sexual health

Diabetes can negatively impact one’s sexual well-being. Elevated blood sugar levels can damage almost every organ system, including nerves and blood vessels.

Proper blood flow to the penis and optimum nerve activity is essential for normal erection function in men. Due to high blood sugar levels, men with diabetes are three times more likely to have erectile dysfunction than those who do not have the condition.

Research suggests that diabetes can affect the sexual functioning in women as well. Women with diabetes can experience symptoms like:

  • Uncomfortable sex due to vaginal dryness
  • Trouble in having an orgasm
  • Decreased sexual drive

These symptoms could be attributed to a defect in estrogen signaling, a direct effect of elevated blood sugar levels.

Diabetes & pregnancy

Pregnancy-related complications tend to be more in women with uncontrolled diabetes. In such cases, women will be at a higher risk of :

  • High blood pressure
  • Miscarriage
  • Cesarean delivery
  • Stillbirths

Therefore, women with diabetes who are pregnant should contact their healthcare provider to keep their blood sugar levels under control.

Diabetes & Yeast and Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

Most women contract vaginal yeast infection at some point in their life, but the likelihood increases in women with type 2 diabetes. Similarly, urinary tract infections are also more common in women with diabetes.

The higher risk of UTIs could be attributed to the high levels of sugar in blood and urine that attract bacterial growth. The impaired immunity due to high blood glucose levels is one of the reasons for vaginal candidiasis. Maintaining blood sugar levels and using antifungal therapy are the most effective ways of managing these infections.

Management and Treatment

Diabetes can affect every organ system in our body. The best approach to managing diabetes is to keep blood glucose levels within the normal range. You can achieve your goal by following these steps:

  • A customized diet plan: Tweak your diet by adding foods that are high in fiber content but less in fats and calories. You may need the help of an experienced dietician to prepare a tailor-made diet plan for you. Eating too less can do more harm than good, so pick your food wisely.
  • Take your prescribed medications: Never miss your medicines and have them just as prescribed by your physician or healthcare provider. You should avoid self-medication at all costs and pay close attention to the dosages and the timings specified by your doctor.
  • Keep a check on your blood cholesterol levels: Maintain your blood cholesterol levels close to the normal range.
  • Exercise regularly: Even if you have a hectic schedule, you should find time for a physical activity like walking, swimming, or dancing for at least half an hour, every day.
  • Monitor your body weight: As obesity is one of the risk factors for diabetes, try to maintain your body weight within the normal range. You may consult a registered dietician to devise an individualized weight-loss plan and incorporate physical activity like exercise or yoga into your daily routine.
  • Quit smoking and alcohol consumption: Though it may sound difficult initially, you should strive to quit smoking and alcohol consumption to keep your sugar levels within the safe limits.

Conclusion

Though the symptoms of diabetes like excessive hunger, increased thirst, and frequent urination can be seen in both men and women, there are some unique differences in the way diabetes & wellbeing pans out in men and women.

While diabetes is more prevalent in men, the risk of diabetes-associated complications is higher in women. Women with diabetes have a greater risk of developing depression or catching vaginal yeast infections and UTIs. Moreover, women with diabetes who are pregnant may have complications like high blood pressure and stillbirth.

The best way to lower your risk for diabetes-related complications and improve personal health is by keeping your blood sugar levels under control. Your healthcare provider will guide you in making the right lifestyle choices like proper nutrition and a customized workout routine, to achieve this goal.

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Reshma Pathare

Reshma Kulkarni-Pathare has been a self-employed media professional since 1999. Starting off as a Freelance Journalist for Times of India Thane Plus, Reshma went onto write for more than 45 national and international publications including Times of India, New Woman, Femina, Indian Express, The Hindu, BBC Good Homes and many more. While her forte has been lifestyle writing, she is equally proficient in writing health articles. Her health articles have been published in Health International (Dubai), New Woman, Femina, and Mother & Baby.

Apart from being a journalist, Reshma also works as a copy-editor for self-publishing houses and academic journals.

She is an award-winning bi-lingual translator with more than 12 books published in her name.

She has been a Visiting Faculty Member for post-graduate department of mass media at MET College (Mumbai) and Welingkar WeSchool (Mumbai).

She has worked as a Consumer Marketing Insights Researcher for global organizations like CEB Iconoculture (USA) and Gartner (USA).

Consolidating her multifarious skills in the media, in 2021, Reshma launched her own boutique media agency called Talking Turkey Communications, which specializes in content writing, editing, and translation.

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