Dr. David Muguku, a family medicine physician on staff at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital, answers your questions about women and diabetes.
- Q. What is diabetes?
- A. Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin, a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy that our bodies need for daily life. The cause of diabetes continues to be a mystery, although both genetics and environmental factors such as obesity and lack of exercise appear to play roles.
There are 9.1 million women in the United States, or 8.9% of the female population, who have diabetes. However, about a third of them do not know it.
- Q. Can diabetes be serious?
A. Diabetes is the fifth-deadliest disease in the United States, and has no cure. Unfortunately, failure to diagnosis and treat diabetes can lead to cardiovascular disease, stroke, kidney failure, eye problems and blindness, depression, and foot and skin problems, which if left untreated can result in infections, ulcers, poor circulation and amputation.
Women with diabetes are at a greater risk for cardiovascular disease, and are twice as likely as men for diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), or a diabetic coma, a condition brought on by poorly controlled diabetes and marked by high blood glucose levels and ketones (by-products of fat metabolism in the blood).
Women with diabetes also have an increased risk of vaginal infections and complications during pregnancy. For women who do not currently have diabetes, pregnancy brings the risk of gestational diabetes, which develops in 2% to 5% of all pregnancies and increases the risk type 2 diabetes later in life.
- Q. What are the symptoms of diabetes?
- A. Diabetes often goes undiagnosed because many of its symptoms seem so harmless, but early detection and treatment can decrease the chance of developing complications. Symptoms include:
- Frequent urination
- Excessive thirst
- Extreme hunger
- Unusual weight loss
- Increased fatigue
- Blurry vision
If you have any of these symptoms, please see your physician as soon as possible.
Q. Who is at risk for developing diabetes?
A. Diabetes does not seem to be inherited in a simple pattern, yet some people are born more likely to get diabetes than others. Regardless of the type of diabetes, there are two factors common to the disease: first, you must inherit a predisposition to the disease; and second, something in your environment must trigger diabetes. There are a number of things that can increase your risk of diabetes, including:
- Age over 45 years
- Race or ethnic background: diabetes is more common in African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
- Family history of diabetes
- Being very overweight compared to your health (Body Mass Index)
- Low physical activity level
- High blood press
- History of diabetes during pregnancy
Q What are the different types of diabetes?
A. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, and was previously known as juvenile diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin. The environmental triggers for Type 1 diabetes may be cold weather, since it develops more often in winter than summer and is more common in places with cold climates, and early diet since it is less common in those who were breastfed and in those who ate solid foods later.
In type 2 diabetes, either the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin, which is necessary for the body to be able to use glucose for energy. When you eat, the body breaks down the sugars and starches into glucose, which is the basic fuel for the cells in the body. Insulin takes the sugar from the blood into the cells. When glucose builds up in the blood instead of going into cells, it can cause two problems:
- Right away, your cells may be starved for energy.
- Over time, high blood glucose levels may hurt your eyes, kidneys, nerves or heart.
Type 2 diabetes is common in people who eat too much fat and too little carbohydrates and fiber, and who get too little exercise. Obesity is a strong risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
Gestational diabetes is more of a puzzle. Women who get diabetes while they are pregnant are more likely to have a family history of diabetes, especially on their mothers' side. But as in other forms of diabetes, nongenetic factors play a role. Older mothers and overweight women are more likely to get gestational diabetes.
Pre-diabetes is a condition that occurs when a person's blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. There are 57 million Americans who have pre-diabetes, in addition to the 23.6 million with diabetes.
Research has also shown that if you take action to manage your blood glucose when you have pre-diabetes, you can delay or prevent type 2 diabetes from ever developing.