Gender Differences in Diabetes
Diabetes affects men and women in different ways. Data shows that men with diabetes — specifically type 2 — are more likely to receive a diagnosis than women are.1 However, research also indicates that women with diabetes are more likely to experience complications.2
Here’s a closer look at how gender impacts your diabetes experience.
Risk Factor Roles
Lifestyle is a huge risk factor. Smoking, lack of activity, and poor diet all increase the risk of diabetes.
But one key difference is weight.
Men are usually diagnosed with diabetes at a lower weight or body mass index (BMI) than women. This may be due to women carrying fat tissue in different areas and maintaining healthy metabolic rates despite obesity.3
Women who are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are at higher risk of experiencing diabetes-related complications, such as:4
- Kidney disease
- Depression and/or anxiety
- Heart disease
In fact, the risk of heart disease increases almost six-fold compared to women without diabetes. Women with diabetes also have worse outcomes after heart attacks.5 They’re often less likely to recognize the signs of a heart attack or delay treatment –– making it more difficult to recover.
Women-Only Risk Factors
Certain conditions that only occur in women can be additional risk factors for diabetes. For example, polycystic ovary syndrome –– a hormonal disorder that causes enlarged ovaries and cysts –– increases the chances of developing type 2 diabetes.6
Similarly, gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy. Although it usually ends after pregnancy, gestational diabetes puts women at a higher likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.
Reproductive and Sexual Health
Diabetes affects reproductive and sexual health in both men and women. And studies show that more than 78% of women who have type 2 diabetes report some type of sexual dysfunction.7
Common forms of sexual dysfunction reported in women with type 2 diabetes include:
- Low sexual satisfaction
- Lower sex drive
- Vaginal dryness, which may lead to painful or uncomfortable sex
- Difficulty being aroused
- Difficulty achieving orgasm
Additional issues women often experience include:
- Urinary Tract and Yeast Infections — High blood sugar levels may be responsible for increasing the risk. To prevent yeast and urinary tract infections, work to keep blood sugar levels in your target range. Drinking plenty of water, urinating often, and wearing cotton underwear can help, too.
- Menstrual Cycle Changes — Hormone levels change before and during your period. These changes can make it difficult to predict blood sugar levels. Check blood sugar often and track results to see if you find a pattern. Talk to your healthcare provider about taking more insulin if needed during the days before your period.
- Birth Control — If you don’t want to become pregnant or you want to ensure your blood sugar levels are in your target range first, talk to your doctor about birth control. Your physician can help you determine which option is right for you.
- Menopause — As the body makes less estrogen, you could experience more ups and downs in blood sugar levels during menopause. Hot flashes or weight gain could make managing blood sugar harder. Discuss your symptoms with your doctor and work with your care team to determine the best care plan for you.
Gender differences in diabetes do exist. However, it’s important to be proactive about your health no matter your gender. Focus on living a healthy lifestyle and working with your care team to manage your diabetes. Get active, eat a healthy diet, and follow your treatment plan. This will help reduce the risk of diabetes-related complications.