Diabetes is common in both men and women, but are the symptoms the same?
Let’s look into the shared symptoms of diabetes among men and women along with some symptoms that are unique to each sex.
About Diabetes Mellitus
Diabetes mellitus is a chronic disease that impacts your pancreas. There are two types of diabetes – type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder where your immune system attacks the part of your pancreas that makes insulin.
Type 2 diabetes is more common and type 1 diabetes is rarer, impacting about 2-5% of people worldwide.
Insulin is a hormone that helps lower your blood glucose (sugar) level. With type 1 diabetes, your body doesn’t make enough insulin which causes high blood sugar. Insulin is necessary for glucose (sugar) to get into your cells where it’s used as energy.
Type 2 diabetes is primarily caused by insulin resistance. Insulin resistance means your body doesn’t respond to insulin the way it should, resulting in high blood glucose levels. Insulin resistance causes prediabetes (borderline diabetes), one of the risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes.
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Do Diabetes Symptoms Differ In Men And Women?
The primary symptoms of diabetes don’t differ among men and women. The mechanism behind diabetes symptoms is the same in humans regardless of sex. Diabetes symptoms show up as a sign that your body is trying to rid itself of high blood sugar.
However, some of the complications that arise as a result of high blood sugar can differ slightly among men and women. For instance, a woman with type 2 diabetes might deliver a large baby while a man with long standing diabetes can develop erectile dysfunction.
Diabetes Symptoms Common In Both Men And Women
The risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes are similar among men and women. Common type 2 diabetes risk factors include being overweight or obese, being age 45 or older, having a sedentary lifestyle, having a family history of type 2 diabetes, and smoking.
Type 1 diabetes has fewer known risk factors since it’s an autoimmune disorder. The risk of type 1 diabetes can be genetic, but it occurs randomly in families without a previous history of type 1 diabetes as well.
The common diabetes symptoms that show up in both men and women include:
High blood glucose levels
Diabetes results in high blood glucose levels. Both type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes can be detected with several blood tests such as fasting plasma glucose, random blood glucose, hemoglobin A1c, or a glucose tolerance test.
If your fasting blood sugar is 126 mg/dL or higher, random blood sugar is 200 mg/dL or higher, and/or hemoglobin A1c is 6.5% or higher, those are all indicators of diabetes.
High blood glucose levels cause an imbalance of certain particles in the urine. When there is a lot of sugar in your urine (a result of your body trying to rid itself of the extra glucose), your body attempts to dilute the sugar by pulling fluid out of your body. This causes increased urine volume and frequent urination also called polyuria.
Increased thirst is connected to frequent urination. If you’re losing more fluids due to increased urination it can be dehydrating.
Dehydration stimulates thirst, which then contributes to frequent urination. Since the thirst is from high blood sugar levels and dehydration, drinking more water may not quench thirst as it does for normal thirst.
When you don’t have enough insulin to allow glucose into your cells, the cells don’t have a source of energy and start to starve.
When your cells are starved for glucose, your body tries to compensate by increasing your appetite to try to provide more energy.
Unintentional weight loss
When your cells are starved for energy your body can start to burn fat and muscle instead. This can result in weight loss even if you’re not trying.
Glucose present in the urine
Both men and women can have glucose present in their urine as one of their diabetes symptoms. Your body tries to get rid of the extra glucose by urinating it out.
Your kidneys usually filter out extra glucose, but if you have diabetes it becomes too much and is present in your urine.
Diabetes Symptoms In Men
Erectile dysfunction & libido issues
Diabetes can cause erectile dysfunction over time because it damages the blood supply to the penis as well as the nerves that control an erection. Men with diabetes are likely to experience erectile dysfunction symptoms 10-15 years earlier in life than men without diabetes.
Over 50% of men with diabetes are estimated to have difficulty initiating or maintaining an erection. Getting older is also a risk factor for erectile dysfunction.
High blood pressure is a common complication that occurs in men with diabetes. High blood pressure can result in erectile dysfunction. Around 50% of men ages 40-79 have high blood pressure.
Symptoms of erectile dysfunction include having trouble getting an erection, trouble maintaining an erection, and reduced sexual desire.
Diabetes Symptoms In Women
Women have unique diabetes complications and symptoms due to their reproductive and urinary anatomy. These aren’t common symptoms for newly-diagnosed diabetes but can occur over time as a complication from long-term high blood sugar levels.
Vaginal dryness occurs when high blood sugar damages the nerves that help lubricate the vagina. High blood glucose levels are also dehydrating, which can reduce the amount of lubricative fluid normally produced, which can lead to painful intercourse and sexual dysfunction.
Urinary tract infections
The extra sugar in the urine can fuel bacteria and lead to a urinary tract (bladder) infection. Women are more likely to have a urinary tract infection than men because their urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body) is shorter than men’s, which allows bacteria to enter the bladder more easily.
Gestational diabetes is having diabetes during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes increases the risk of complications for mother and baby such as having a large baby, preterm birth, low blood sugar in the baby shortly after birth, and maternal high blood pressure.
Symptoms of undiagnosed type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes are usually the same for both men and women. Having chronic high blood sugar causes diabetes complications that differ among men and women, though.
Men with diabetes are more likely to develop erectile dysfunction and women with diabetes can develop pregnancy complications, urinary tract infections, and sexual issues from long-term high blood sugar.