If you are a woman and think you might have diabetes, also called diabetes mellitus, it is important to know the symptoms of diabetes that can be specific to only women.
You may not even know you have diabetes because the symptoms can be mild or mistaken for other conditions such as pregnancy.
Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects how your body uses sugar and when you have diabetes, your blood sugar levels can become too high which can cause a variety of health problems.
In this article, we will discuss the symptoms of diabetes and the ones that are specific to women, as well as your treatment options.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic condition that occurs when your body cannot properly process blood sugar, also called glucose.
Your blood sugar level will spike when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, or when the body develops insulin resistance.
Glucose enters your bloodstream when your body breaks down the food you eat into glucose which is then absorbed into your bloodstream.
Once in your blood, by using the hormone insulin the glucose enters your cells where it is used for energy.
When your body has reduced insulin sensitivity or does not produce insulin, excess sugar stays in your bloodstream and raises your blood sugar levels too high which can lead to a number of health problems including heart disease, heart attack, stroke, nerve damage, and kidney damage.
There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes. Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes, is when the insulin-producing cells called beta cells in your pancreas stop producing any insulin.
Type 2 diabetes is when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or the cells in the body do not properly use insulin. Gestational diabetes is when you have high blood sugar levels during pregnancy.
What are the symptoms of diabetes?
The common symptoms of diabetes can vary depending on if you are a man or woman although there are many symptoms they share in common.
The most common symptoms of diabetes include:
- Excessive thirst
- Frequent urination
- Blurred vision
- Extreme hunger
- Unexplained weight loss
- Slow-healing wounds
- Frequent infections, especially skin infections
- Tingling or numbness in your extremities
- Dark skin patches, especially on your neck, groin, or armpit
- Fruity smelling breath or breath that smells like acetone
If you have any of these symptoms, it is important to consult with your doctor as soon as possible so that you can get a diagnosis and begin treatment if necessary.
What are the symptoms of diabetes in only women?
There are a few symptoms of diabetes that only women experience.
These symptoms include:
Vaginal yeast infections
If you have diabetes you may experience more frequent infections and for women, this also includes yeast infections which may also be called vaginal thrush.
Yeast infections are a skin condition caused by an overgrowth of the fungus Candida and symptoms include itchiness, burning, pain during sexual intercourse, and vaginal discharge.
You may also experience oral yeast infections too.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic ovary syndrome is a hormonal disorder that can cause enlarged ovaries with small cysts on the outer edges and symptoms such as irregular periods, difficulty getting pregnant, weight gain, depression, and acne.
PCOS is also a common cause of type 2 diabetes in women.
Urinary tract infections (UTI)
Women with diabetes are also more susceptible to urinary tract infections because the sugar in their urine provides a breeding ground for bacteria.
Symptoms of a urinary tract infection include pain or burning when urinating, cloudy or bloody urine, and the feeling that you need to urinate even when your bladder is empty.
Sexual dysfunction is another symptom of diabetes that only women experience due to damage to the nerves that can be caused by diabetes.
The nerve damage is called diabetic neuropathy and symptoms include pain, numbness, or tingling in the vulva or vagina which can lead to difficulties with sexual arousal and orgasm.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to consult with your doctor or healthcare provider as they may be indicative of diabetes.
What are the risk factors for diabetes?
There are a number of risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes which include:
- Family history of diabetes: if you have a family member with diabetes, you are more likely to develop the condition yourself
- Age, as the risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases if you are older than 45
- Being overweight or obese
- Excess abdominal fat around your waist
- Lack of physical activity or living a sedentary lifestyle
- An unhealthy diet can increase your risk of diabetes, specifically, a diet that is high in fat, salt, processed foods, and sugar such as sugary drinks can lead to weight gain which can then lead to diabetes
- Gestational diabetes, if you have had gestational diabetes when you were pregnant, your risk of developing type 2 diabetes later on in life is increased for both you and your child
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), as noted above, PCOS can cause weight gain which can also lead to type 2 diabetes
- Race or ethnicity, if you are African American, Asian American, Native American, Latino, or Pacific Islander you are at a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes
- Gave birth to a child weighing over nine pounds
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Smoke tobacco
If you have any of these risk factors, it is important to be aware of the symptoms of diabetes so that you can check for them and consult with your doctor if necessary.
What happens if you have diabetes and get pregnant?
If you have diabetes and become pregnant, it is possible to have a very healthy and safe pregnancy with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
However, it is important to consult with your doctor or healthcare provider as soon as possible as diabetes can cause a number of complications during pregnancy for both you and your child. These complications include:
- Birth defects
- Increased risk for miscarriage or stillbirth
- Premature delivery
- High blood pressure
- Having a large child
- Low blood pressure for your child
For these reasons, it is important to get your blood glucose levels in your healthy range before getting pregnant and maintain healthy glucose levels while pregnant also.
Please note, that the target levels may differ when pregnant and not pregnant.
What are the symptoms of gestational diabetes?
While being pregnant, you may also develop diabetes that lasts until shortly after you give birth and this is called gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes is caused by the hormonal changes of pregnancy that affects the way your cells respond to insulin and usually go away after you give birth.
The symptoms of gestational diabetes are the same as the symptoms listed above but please be aware that not all women with gestational diabetes will have symptoms and that some of the symptoms may not differ from the normal symptoms of being pregnant.
What are the treatment options for diabetes?
If you think you may have diabetes, it is important to consult with your doctor or healthcare provider as soon as possible to get a diagnosis and develop a diabetes treatment plan.
The sooner you catch diabetes, the easier it is to treat and manage. While there is no cure for diabetes, it can be managed through a variety of treatment options.
These treatment options include:
Blood sugar testing
A blood sugar test measures the amount of glucose in your blood and is used to monitor and diagnose diabetes.
If you have type 2 diabetes, you may need to take a diabetes medication to help your body respond better to insulin and lower your blood sugar levels.
On the other hand, if you are a type 1 diabetic you will need to use insulin therapy for the rest of your life. Common medications used to treat diabetes include insulin and metformin.
Making lifestyle changes can help improve your blood sugar levels and prevent the progression of the disease if you have type 2 diabetes and it can also help you manage your blood sugar levels if you have type 1 diabetes.
These lifestyle changes include:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Exercising regularly
- Losing excess body weight
- Reducing stress
- Quitting smoking
Both women and men can suffer from diabetes; however, the symptoms will not always be the same for both.
The symptoms that affect only women include vaginal yeast infections, urinary tract infections, polycystic ovary syndrome, and sexual dysfunction.
You can also have a very healthy pregnancy while having diabetes but you must monitor your blood sugar levels and keep them in the target range to avoid any complications.
There is no cure for diabetes, but it can be managed through medication and lifestyle changes.
The sooner you catch it, the easier it will be to manage. If you have any more questions about diabetes, please talk to your doctor or health care provider.
References and sources:
Fact Checked and Editorial Process
Diabetic.org is devoted to producing expert and accurate articles and information for our readers by hiring experts, journalists, medical professionals, and our growing Diabetic.org community. We encourage you to read more about our content, editing, and fact checking methods here. This was fact checked by Jacqueline Hensler and medically reviewed by Dr. Angel Rivera.
Erik Rivera is a co-founder of Diabetic.org and has been an e-commerce Entrepreneur for over 10 years since he retired from Special Forces after graduating from the Naval Academy. He also is the founder of Health Ramp Services, a company that brings new medical device companies to market. He has founded several digital businesses and has had a number of successful exits in e-commerce as well as software. His OnePet business is a leader in the online Pet Care space by creating and delivering high quality products and services for pet owners.