According to Diabetes Canada, 11 million Canadians are currently living with diabetes or pre-diabetes. Diabetes is a disease in which your body either can’t produce insulin or can’t properly use the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone produced by your pancreas and its role is to regulate the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Blood sugar must be carefully regulated to ensure that the body functions properly. Too much blood sugar can cause damage to organs, blood vessels, and nerves. Insulin also allows your body to use sugar for energy. Does diabetes in women cause cardiac issues? First, let’s examine the different types of diabetes.
Types of Diabetes
There are three major types of diabetes in women. Type 1 diabetes followed by type 2 diabetes, which is the most common diagnosis. During pregnancy, women may get gestational diabetes, which in most cases, is usually temporary. A pre-diabetic diagnosis is important as it indicates an elevated risk of developing diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes in women is an autoimmune disease and is also known as insulin-dependent diabetes. Type 1 diabetics can’t produce their own insulin or regulate their blood sugar. This is due to their body attacking the pancreas. Roughly 10 per cent of people living with diabetes have type 1 diabetes and are insulin-dependent. Type 1 diabetes generally develops in childhood or adolescence, but also can develop in adulthood. People with type 1 diabetes need to inject insulin or use an insulin pump to ensure their bodies have the right amount of insulin.
Type 2 diabetes in women means they can’t properly use the insulin made by their bodies, or their bodies aren’t able to produce enough insulin. Roughly 90 per cent of people living with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is most commonly developed in adulthood, although it can also occur in childhood. Type 2 diabetes can sometimes be managed with healthy eating and regular exercise alone but may also require medications or insulin therapy.
Gestational diabetes in women is a temporary form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. Between three and 20 per cent of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes, depending on their risk factors. A diagnosis of gestational diabetes may increase the risk of developing diabetes later in life for both mother and child.
Prediabetes in women is a condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal but are not yet high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. Although not everyone with prediabetes will develop type 2 diabetes, many people will. It’s important to know if you have prediabetes, because research has shown that some long-term complications associated with diabetes—such as heart disease—may begin during prediabetes.
Women and Diabetes
Diabetes in women leads to higher risk of developing heart disease – four times more likely, in fact. As well, women with diabetes who suffer from a heart attack typically will have worse outcomes than those without diabetes. Women are also at higher risk of other diabetes-related complications, such as blindness, kidney disease and depression. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African American, Hispanic/Latina, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Asian/Pacific Islander women are more likely to have diabetes than white women.
Why Does Diabetes Increase the Risk of Heart Disease?
(From John Hopkins Medical website)
The concentration of blood glucose or blood sugar, and how much it sticks to red blood cells and impedes the flow of oxygen in the blood, plays a large role in cardiovascular risk. An important measurement of sugar in the blood over a three-month period is the hemoglobin A1C test.
Hemoglobin is just one of the proteins that transport oxygen in the blood. Diabetes is a disease that impacts large blood vessels (such as the coronary arteries) and small vessels (such as arteries that carry blood to nerve endings and kidneys). Diabetes can affect the cardiovascular system by:
- Attaching glucose to (glycosylating) blood proteins and disrupting the distribution of oxygen throughout the body
- Causing the clumping of cholesterol-carrying proteins like LDL (bad) cholesterol, which leads to more plaque buildup in the vessel walls
- Producing fatty acids that can destroy proteins in the blood vessels
- Accelerating the development of atherosclerosis by playing a significant role in blood vessel inflammation
Diabetes in women can be avoided – to decrease your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, you must maintain or move towards a healthy lifestyle. This includes eating healthier, exercising more and losing weight, if needed. Those who have been diagnosed with prediabetes or are at higher risk of developing diabetes can still turn things around. Commit to changing your lifestyle, little by little, and decrease your chances of becoming diabetic.