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Signs of Diabetes in Women

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of diabetes can help prevent type 2 diabetes or complications of diabetes.

Diabetes signs in women are important because they indicate that blood sugar levels are higher than target levels. Type 2 diabetes is becoming more prevalent, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting that 16.2 million American women, or 12%, have diabetes. The rate is about twice that high among adults 65 years and older. 

Another 33.7% of women over 18 years old have prediabetes. Other terms for prediabetes include borderline diabetes and having insulin resistance. With prediabetes, lifestyle changes can help reverse insulin resistance or prevent or delay type 2 diabetes. Once you have type 2 diabetes, lifestyle changes and medications can help manage blood sugar and lower the risk for complications.

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Diabetes signs in women are even more important when you consider the following information. 

  • Lifestyle changes can prevent or delay the onset of diabetes if you have prediabetes, but fewer than 1 in 5 women with prediabetes know that they have it, likely because there are usually no symptoms of prediabetes.
  • Self-management of diabetes can help prevent complications, but more than 1 in 5 women with diabetes do not know that they have it.
  • Recognizing the symptoms of prediabetes and diabetes in women can help catch it earlier, and using programs such as Lark Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) or Lark for Diabetes can help you make effective dietary and other healthy behavior choices to lower blood sugar and prevent complications.

Many of the signs of diabetes are the same for everyone, but women have some additional signs that men do not. In addition, women with prediabetes are more likely than men to progress to diabetes. Learn the signs, and you will be in a better position to get the medical help you need to stay healthy by preventing or delaying diabetes or complications of diabetes and live better and healthier. 


Have you seen Lark’s Best Prediabetes Diet for 2020?

What is Diabetes and Why Does It Happen?

Donuts and sugars are not part of a prediabetes diet plan.

Diabetes mellitus” literally means, “sugar urine disease.” It is a condition in which your blood sugar is abnormally high – so high that some sugar is excreted as waste in your urine. Diabetes results from a disruption of normal glucose metabolism and the action of insulin.

Types of Diabetes in Women


Type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes are the types of diabetes mellitus that women can develop. Prediabetes always comes before type 2 diabetes, though people with prediabetes may not know it because it has no symptoms.

1. Type 1 Diabetes

Mayo Clinic explains that type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that occurs when your immune system attacks and destroys the beta cells of your pancreas. The beta cells produce insulin. When they are attacked, your body does not have the insulin it needs to clear glucose from the blood and properly lower blood sugar. Type 1 diabetes is linked to genetics. It tends to be triggered by an environmental event, such as a virus, and usually happens in childhood.

About 5% of women with diabetes have type 1 diabetes. If you are wondering if you could be at risk of diabetes, consider the following risk factors.

You are at higher risk of being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes if:

  • You live far north or far south of the equator, which may be related to a vitamin D deficiency.
  • You have a family history of type 1 diabetes.

Diabetes signs in younger women could indicate the presence of type 1 diabetes especially if they come on suddenly and severely. Type 1 diabetes is most often diagnosed in children and adolescents.

2. Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is far more common than type 1 diabetes. While type 1 diabetes results from beta cell destruction and lack of insulin production, type 2 diabetes results from cells in the body being resistant to the effects of insulin. In fact, most of the early stages of the progression of insulin resistance that causes prediabetes and then diabetes include exceptionally high levels of insulin!

Here is how a classic case of type 2 diabetes develops. Over the course of years, a woman can repeatedly place high demands on her insulin response. Reasons may include having unusually high blood sugar, such as from overeating and gaining weight or from excessive alcohol consumption. She can also cause insulin resistance by having low physical activity levels. 

Over time, the cells of the body need increasing amounts of insulin to take up the same amount of glucose from the blood and keep blood sugar levels in check. This means that they are increasingly resistant to the effect of insulin, or insulin resistant. For years, blood sugar can appear normal as the pancreas produce more and more insulin. 

Eventually, two things happen to lead to higher blood sugar levels, as described in Frontiers in Endocrinology.

  1. Insulin resistance becomes strong enough that blood glucose levels stay high. This is when prediabetes and then diabetes can be diagnosed.
  2. The pancreatic beta cells become exhausted and produce much less insulin. This happens in the later stages of diabetes. This is when insulin may be prescribed as a medication to control blood sugar.

Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include both genetic and lifestyle factors. The CDC explains that you are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes if:

  • You are overweight or obese.
  • You have prediabetes.
  • You do not engage in moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity for at least 150 minutes per week.
  • You had gestational diabetes when you were pregnant or you have given birth to a baby over 9 lb.
  • You have a parent or sibling with diabetes.

Some characteristics are considered stronger risk factors for type 2 diabetes in women than in men, as listed in an article in Endocrinology Reviews.

  • Certain job-related stressors, including night-work exposure and high job strain
  • Lower socioeconomic status
  • Less education
  • High testosterone

If you have risk factors for diabetes, you might want to ask your doctor for a diabetes or blood sugar test to check. That way, you can start to manage it as soon as possible to stay healthy. For example, Lark for Diabetes is available via smartphone to help with weight loss, carbohydrate control, and taking medications, among other things.

3. Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes is abnormally high blood sugar that being during pregnancy. According to the CDC, as many as 1 in 10 women develop it during pregnancy, and about half of those eventually develop type 2 diabetes.Gestational diabetes is caused by insulin resistance, which is the result of hormonal changes and weight gain during pregnancy. There are not usually symptoms of gestational diabetes, so your prenatal care plan is likely to include tests for it. Failure to treat gestational diabetes can lead to high birthweight or premature birth.

4. Prediabetes

Prediabetes is a precursor to type 2 diabetes. They both result from insulin resistance. If prediabetes is not treated, it can lead to type 2 diabetes. However, prediabetes is a very treatable condition if you know you have it. Since it usually has no symptoms, prediabetes should be tested for using blood tests if you have risk factors or every few years.

In most cases, simple lifestyle changes can reverse prediabetes or at least prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes. A  CDC-recognized Diabetes Prevention Program focuses on some of the behaviors that are the most effective at lowering blood sugar. 

  • Losing weight if you are overweight or obese.
  • Increasing physical activity levels.
  • Making healthier food choices.

Lark DPP provides coaching on these and other strategies for lowering blood sugar. The program includes goal setting, tracking and logging of weight, physical activity, and meals, instant feedback, and smart tips to help establish healthy habits. Lark DPP is available anytime and accessible through your smartphone to make it easier to make healthy decisions throughout the day and night.

Common Signs of Diabetes in Men and Women


Tingling or pain in the hands or feet is a diabetes symptom for women and men.

Most of the signs of diabetes are common to both men and women. The NIDDK lists the following as possible signs of uncontrolled high blood sugar.

  • Unintentional weight loss, fatigue, and hunger due to carbohydrates in foods being excreted as glucose in urine instead of being taken up by fat cells to be stores as fat, or by muscle cells, to be used for energy.
  • Excessive thirst and urination, as the body works to maintain equilibrium while accounting for the excess sugar in the blood.
  • Impaired wound healing, numbness and tingling in your feet and hands, and skin infections, from damage caused by excessive levels of glucose in the bloodstream over time.

It is important to know that you might only detect these signs after diabetes has progressed. There are often no signs of prediabetes or early diabetes in women. That means it is critical to contact your doctor immediately if you experience any possible signs of diabetes. In addition, be aware that you could have diabetes or prediabetes without having any warning signs of diabetes. That is why it is best to let your doctor know if you have any risk factors.

Do I have Diabetes: Diabetes Symptoms for Women


Hormonal and other differences can cause signs of diabetes that are unique to women. According to the NIDDK, conditions that are linked to diabetes include:

  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is associated with diabetes and is a cause of infertility.
  • Yeast infections, since yeast can grow more easily when sugar levels are higher.
  • Urinary tract or bladder infections.
  • Sexual dysfunction, such as painful sex or lack of arousal.

Signs and Symptoms of Prediabetes in Women


As is true with men, signs and symptoms of prediabetes are rare in women. You are unlikely to experience signs of prediabetes, which is why it is important to get a blood sugar or prediabetes test if you have risk factors. However, the NIDDK says that people with prediabetes can experience a sign called acanthosis nigricans, or a dark, velvety patch appearing on certain areas of the skin such as the back of the neck, elbows, or armpits. 

How Diabetes Is Different in Women Than in Men?


For both men and women, diabetes is a condition of high blood sugar and insulin resistance. Uncontrolled diabetes increases the risk for complications such as heart disease, kidney disease, blindness, and amputations, in both men and women. However, there are some differences among women. As women tend to be diagnosed at higher BMIs than men, signs of diabetes in women with a BMI over 24 should be investigated. Check your BMI if you’re unsure what it is.

Greater Impact of Some Complications

Women experience some diabetes-related complications differently than men. These are some examples of complications that affect women more severely than men, according to research published in “Endocrine Reviews.”

Extreme fatigue and high pressure headaches are a warning sign of diabetes in women.
  • 10% more physical limitations in women.
  • Nearly twice as much anxiety, and more cognitive impairment among women.
  • Increased risk of renal disease in women.
  • 10 to 33% risk of depression, compared to 8 to 14% in men.
  • 40% greater risk for coronary heart disease, with more fatal and nonfatal cardiac events in women.
  • 27% higher risk of stroke.

The reasons for these differences are not known, but there are some possible explanations. Some differences are likely to be hormonal. There is also the possibility of less accurate diagnosis of coronary heart disease in women due to differences in microvascular and other symptoms compared to men, according to an article published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Given the significant risk of complications with uncontrolled diabetes, as well as the dramatic reduction in risk that you can achieve by controlling your blood sugar, symptoms of type 2 diabetes in women should be taken seriously. Whether you are showing early signs of diabetes as a woman at the age of 40 or 60, you can take charge of your condition and work to reverse your prediabetes.

Increased Mortality among Women

With advances in healthcare, increased knowledge about diabetes management, and better awareness, you might expect that mortality related to diabetes would be lower now than 20 years ago. That is true for men, but it is not true for women. Signs of diabetes in women over 60, or even younger, should not be ignored, especially when considering that women with diabetes at age 40 are at greater risk for earlier mortality than men diagnosed at the same age.

According to research published in “Annals of Internal Medicine,” the all-cause mortality rate for men with diabetes decreased from 42.6 to 24.4 deaths per 1,000 people, while the respective figures for women reflected an increase from 18.4 to 25.9 deaths per 1,000 people. In addition, cardiovascular disease mortality dropped by over half in men, and by only 10% in women from 1971 to 2000.

Statistics on Prediabetes and Diabetes in Women


Knowing more about diabetes in women helps prevent it and manage it when it does happen. Research is constantly underway to assess who gets prediabetes and diabetes, what the effects are, and what medications and other treatments are best for minimizing the impact. These are some facts on diabetes in women published in the National Diabetes Statistics Report.

  • 12% of women, or about 1 in 8, have diabetes, but about 20% of them do not know it.
  • Each year, about 6.6 out of every 1,000 women in the U.S. develop diabetes.
  • 31.2% of women have prediabetes, and only 19.8% of them are aware of it.
  • Diabetes is the seventh-leading cause of death for U.S. women overall, but is higher among African American, Hispanic, and Native American women.
  • Heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and kidney disease – all higher among individuals with diabetes – are the first, fifth, sixth, and eighth-leading causes of death in the U.S., respectively.

Blood Sugar Control with Lark


Whether your blood sugar is perfectly normal or your blood sugar is high because of prediabetes or diabetes, your health behaviors affect your blood sugar. The daily choices you make affect blood sugar levels and insulin resistance, and they impact your risk for developing prediabetes, diabetes, signs and symptoms of diabetes, and complications of diabetes.

Luckily, Lark can be there throughout each day to help you make small changes that can have a big impact on blood sugar and diabetes symptoms. Signs and symptoms are unlikely to appear during prediabetes or early diabetes, so don’t wait for them! Instead, it is time to take action if you have prediabetes or have other risk factors for developing diabetes. You could be at risk for type 2 diabetes and eligible for a Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) if you have one or more risk factors such as being overweight or obese, being over 45 years old, being physically inactive, or having a family history of type 2 diabetes. 

Lark Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) offers coaching through your smartphone to help manage prediabetes and lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Your Lark coach is always available to help with lifestyle choices that can prevent or delay the onset of diabetes. Lark is designed to help you establish healthy habits around areas, such as weight loss, nutrition, physical activity, and even sleep and stress management, that can effectively lower blood sugar and help avoid symptoms of diabetes. Plus, you may even get a free scale or Fitbit!

The entire program can be available at no cost to you if your health insurer participates. Click here to find out if you may be eligible for Lark! Lark is completely convenient and ready to chat whenever you are. You could be minutes away from taking the first steps to managing prediabetes and improving health.

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Written by Natalie Stein on September 30, 2018
Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Lark Health
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