The International Diabetes Federation states that 415 million people globally have diabetes. As per research conducted by the International Diabetes Federation, 19.3% of the population in UAE are living with Diabetes. 
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder in which a person has high blood sugar caused by discrepancies in producing sufficient insulin. It is a serious chronic condition caused when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body is unable to effectively use the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas and is responsible for regulating and maintaining the blood sugar levels in the normal range. Insulin deficiency causes an imbalance in the blood sugar levels, raising it to higher than normal levels, resulting in Diabetes.
Every year, the 14th of November is recognized as World Diabetes Day, in order to spread the word about diabetes and its health consequences of being left untreated and ineffectively managed. World Diabetes Day 2017 goes to the theme Women and Diabetes – Our right to a healthy future.
Half of the people affected by diabetes globally are women. The burden of diabetes on women is unique because it can affect a woman and her unborn child. There are majorly 2 types of diabetes; Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the pancreas considering it to be a foreign body. The pancreas stop functioning and there is no insulin production, hence causing the buildup on sugar levels in the blood. Type 2 diabetes generally develops after the age of 35 and is caused when the body doesn’t develop sufficient insulin or becomes insulin resistant. Women, however also suffer from a condition called as Gestational Diabetes.
Symptoms of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are similar in both men and women, such as excessive thirst, slow healing of wounds, blurred vision, fatigue, frequent urination etc. However, some symptoms and complications of diabetes are unique to women, they include:
- Vaginal infections causing itching, vaginal discharge, painful intercourse etc.
- Oral yeast infections resulting in a coating on the tongue and inside of the mouth.
- Urinary Tract Infections are common in women with diabetes. They cause burning sensation while urinating, bloody urine and also puts women at the risk of kidney conditions.
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is caused when the body produces excess male hormones and causes insulin resistance, resulting in elevated sugar levels.
Factors that increase a woman’s chance of developing diabetes are:
- Family history of diabetes
- Gestational diabetes
- Unhealthy lifestyle practices
- Uncontrolled cholesterol/BP
As per statistics from the International Diabetes Federation, 1 in 10 women suffer from diabetes and 1 in 7 births suffer from gestational diabetes (GDM).  Gestational diabetes is a condition that occurs only during pregnancy and if left unmanaged, can cause health issues for the mother and child. The condition generally disappears after delivery, however, this increases one’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later on in life. Even the baby born to a woman with gestational diabetes has a risk of developing diabetes in the future.
Gestational Diabetes is first diagnosed in women during pregnancy. Any woman can develop the condition, although there are certain risk factors that put women at the risk of developing the condition, such as:
- Gestational diabetes in previous pregnancy
- 25 years or above
- BMI of 30 or more
- Family history of diabetes
Gestational diabetes does not always result in complicated pregnancies, however, such women may sometimes face compilations like
- The size of the baby may be larger than normal resulting in difficult pregnancies
- Premature delivery
- Pre-eclampsia, a condition causing high BP during pregnancy
- Loss of the baby
- Development of the condition in future pregnancies
Gestational diabetes cannot be prevented and can be caused in any women at any stage of their pregnancy. It is important for the condition to be detected early in order to prevent complications at a later stage. Screening of GDM should be performed in all pregnant woman between the 24th-28th weeks of pregnancy through a 75gms oral glucose tolerance test. It can be performed earlier in pregnant women with the aforementioned risk factors. Diabetes is a lifestyle disorder and can occur to anybody. It is regulated by hereditary and environmental factors. However, changing our way of living and improving better lifestyles can help prevent diabetes to a great extent and it is particularly important if there is a family history of diabetes or if one is obese.
Make sure you know your risks of developing diabetes. A regular health assessment is recommended. Type 2 diabetes particularly, occurs with no prior symptoms and hence Diabetes, along with Hypertension and Dyslipidemia is called a ‘silent killer’
Invest in healthy eating habits and adopt healthy dietary practices by including whole grains in your meals, limit red meat consumption and drink lots of water. If you are diabetic, consult a dietician. Engage in regular physical activity. Performing any kind of physical activity will help maintain body weight and keep glucose levels on track. Aerobic exercises like cycling, brisk walking, swimming and weight training exercises improve blood circulation and strengthen the heart and lungs. Staying physically active also helps in maintaining a healthy body weight. Healthy diet changes and physical activity go hand in hand in curbing diabetes. Stop smoking completely and have alcohol in moderation. Diabetes can affect anyone including men, women, and children. Women, however, must take charge of their health and adopt healthy lifestyles in order to improve the health and well-being of the future generations as well.
Aster Clinic, Bur Dubai (AJMC)