Diabetic Complications: Men vs Women

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder where the body cannot process dietary sugar properly. Healthy blood sugar levels average between 70 and 140 mg/dl throughout the day. These levels are the same for men and women and should be lower before you eat, and higher after. Diabetes is diagnosed by taking a fasting blood sample, usually in the morning before the patient eats. A fasting blood sugar reading greater than 70 mg/dl is a strong indicator for diabetes.
Once diagnosed, the patient works with her doctor to control her blood sugar levels with a combination of medication and testing her blood sugar levels with a glucose monitor. Even with treatment, diabetes can shorten your life span and cause a host of other conditions including heart and kidney disease.

Both men and women are at risk for the complications associated with diabetes, but women appear to be at greater risk.


Life Span:

Until comparatively recently, diabetic men showed a greater reduction in life span than women. However, a 2007 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine indicated that the rate of early death for diabetic men was decreasing, while the death rate for women remained constant. Not only that, but the average shortened life span for diabetic women was actually greater than for their male counterparts – 7.5 years for men vs. 8.2 years for women. The study speculated that physiological differences between male and female bodies were a contributing factor, such as inherent differences in HDL, or good, cholesterol levels and estrogen vs. testosterone levels. Another theory points to the idea that men and women are treated differently by healthcare professionals. These differences are apparent in medical attitudes toward the co-morbid conditions of heart and kidney disease.

Heart Disease:

Traditionally, men are considered more at risk for heart disease than women. Unfortunately, this traditional view does not take into account the effects of diabetes. As excess sugar builds up in the bloodstream it causes damage to the blood vessels and this damage leads to plaque deposits in walls of the vessels. In non-diabetic women, the rate of plaque deposition is generally lower than in non-diabetic men. However, with diabetes the risk for plaque deposition in women is significantly higher. With the higher plaque rates comes a greater risk for heart disease and heart attack and the Partnership for Gender-Specific Medicine at Columbia University indicates that diabetic women are six times more likely to develop heart disease than non-diabetic women.  In 2011, the Radiological Society of North America reported that women with high rates of plaque deposition had a greater risk of heart disease and heart attack than men. Yet, because heart disease is considered a higher risk factor for men, women are less likely to receive early intervention and screening for the disease.
To further complicate things, women tend to experience the signs and symptoms of a heart attack differently than men. First, it is possible to suffer a mild heart attack that does not disrupt daily activities. When men have these heart attacks, they tend to experience the classic signs and symptoms – chest pain that radiates down the left arm or up the left side of the jaw, shortness of breath and a feeling of pressure in the chest – and seek medical attention. On the other hand, women experience shortness of breath but they are not likely to experience the chest pain or pain along the left arm and jaw. In women, the pain is more likely to occur in the back, or radiate down both arms and up both sides of the neck and jaw and, for this reason, many women don’t realize they are experiencing a cardiac event and might not seek treatment. This delay in seeking treatment means that the resultant damage to the heart goes untreated and paves the way for a more severe attack later.

Even in the case of a more severe initial attack, women are less likely to realize what is happening, or seek medical, attention until it is too late.

Kidney Disease:

As with heart disease, men are traditionally considered at greater risk than women. And while it is true that the age of onset for non-diabetic women is usually after menopause, in diabetic women kidney disease can occur at any age, and as frequently as with men. Diabetic-related kidney disease occurs as the body attempts to clear excess sugar from the blood via the urinary tract. The sugar damages the structures in the kidneys, and the kidneys also have to work harder to dilute the urine. Because women are not considered at as great a risk, they may not receive the same interventions to prevent kidney disease, and could receive later diagnoses than men.

How to Protect Yourself:

At this point, when it comes to diabetic complications, women need to be strong advocates for their own health. In addition to proper blood sugar monitoring, medication and lifestyle changes – such as regular exercise and quitting smoking – women also need to work closely with the health professionals responsible for their care. This includes voicing concerns about the risk of kidney and heart disease, requesting early screening, and learning about the signs and symptoms of heart attack in women. If necessary, this could mean changing health practitioners to get the proper screening and treatment. Women should also make health care professionals aware of their health histories, especially any family history of kidney disease, hypertension, and heart disease.

In the event that you are diagnosed with a diabetic complication, it is likely that you are going to need to start taking medication as a means of reducing or eliminating some of the symptoms. While many patients are content with buying their medication at a drug store, others are obtaining their medicine through online pharmacies. It is surprisingly simple to order your prescriptions online, and it is certainly worth it to investigate your options. This gives you much more freedom, as you can save money by purchasing your medicine in bulk quantities.