You’ve sailed through menopause so far. You were one of the lucky ones. No hot flashes, no weight gain, nothing much to complain about. And then you get the news: Your normally manageable diabetes is out of control. Or ... you have acquired diabetes.  

What?

Menopause and Diabetes

Menopause increases the risk of diabetes, according to Menopause.org, although doctors and researchers are not completely sure why. The theory is hormones have something to do with the increased jeopardy of diabetes among women over the age 50. If a woman is already diabetic, menopause can make the disease more problematic to deal with. 

Were you aware those women who had gestational diabetes when pregnant, pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy) and/or polycystic ovary syndrome, also have an increased risk of diabetes later in life?

The mortality rate among female diabetics has increased dramatically over the past 40 years, while it has not risen for male diabetics. This is frightening. 

Type 1 or Type 2

When an individual has type 1 diabetes, her body is producing little or no insulin. This kind of diabetes usually pops up in children or young adults but it can happen at any age. 

Type 2 diabetes means the body doesn’t produce enough insulin and does not respond appropriately to the insulin that is produced. This version of diabetes usually appears in older people who are inactive and overweight

Diabetes Wreaks Havoc

Diabetes takes its toll on the body. When afflicted with this condition it ups the likelihood a woman (or man) will acquire other serious illnesses including kidney disease, blindness and nerve disease. 

Read this next: Young Women Are Not Exempt from Breast Cancer

The Mayo Clinic considers menopause and diabetes the ‘twin challenge.’ Menopause alters hormone levels and these changes can prompt instabilities in blood sugar level. The change in hormones results in a shift in the way cells respond to insulin.

If a woman is already a diabetic prior to menopause she may discover her sugar levels are less predictable post-menopause. 

Obesity or Being Overweight

Age and being overweight or obese are the most typical traits among those likely to develop type 2 diabetes. So the menopausal woman who is overweight is increasing her odds of acquiring this condition. 

Menopausal women tend to gain weight during peri-menopause and when fully menopausal and this can result in an increased need for oral diabetes medicine or insulin if already diabetic. 

When a woman has type 2 diabetes and is overweight this may delay menopause because estrogen hormones drop slower in overweight, diabetic women than in those who are a normal weight. 

If diabetic and menopausal and suffering from sleep related disorders (insomnia, night sweats) this makes managing blood sugar levels even more challenging. 

Symptoms of ... What?

A menopausal woman may be having diabetic symptoms and not realize it because they are very similar to menopause indicators – sweating, dizziness and irritability. To be on the safe side, have your blood glucose levels check if you are experiencing these signs. 

Further Risks

Diabetes complicates everything. A menopausal woman with type 2 diabetes has a greater risk of experiencing hardening and thickening of the artery walls (atherosclerosis) which can cause a heart attack or stroke. The good news is atherosclerosis’s progression can be slowed down via improved physical activity and a lower fat diet. 

Osteoporosis

When suffering from type 1 diabetes, bone density is less than it should be. Low bone mass ups the risk of a person developing osteoporosis, which is a condition where bones aren’t as thick as they should be and as a result can fracture easily. Those with diabetes frequently have vision problems and nerve damage, which may account for the increase in falls among this set. 

The same goes for those with type 2 diabetes, although it was thought this group was protected against osteoporosis because the individuals were heavy and not frail. Bone density is higher among those with type 2, but fractures still occur if the individual falls. The overweight group leads a more sedentary lifestyle that those carrying around less fat and inactivity hinders bone health. Diet and exercise safeguard bone health in those with or without diabetes. 

Treatment 

Although HRT or hormone replacement therapy before and during menopause was once the go-to solution that hasn’t been the case for more than a decade because HRT was linked to breast cancer. 

However, some doctors believe HRT, when used prudently, is a good choice for menopausal women with type 2 diabetes who are having difficulty keeping their blood glucose in check, but not all physicians agree with this assessment.

You’ve heard it all before, diabetic or not. Eating a proper diet and engaging in regular physical activity safeguards your health at any age, but particularly when you are older, menopausal and diabetic.

Curtail your alcohol intake, don’t smoke, take extra, special care of your feet (which are a problem area for diabetics) and follow proper diabetic care procedures. 

Menopause may, indeed, make your diabetes more challenging to manage and, yes, there is a chance you will be diagnosed for the first time as a diabetic during menopause. (We can hear you groaning.) It seems things should be getting easier at this stage of life, but that’s not always the way it works out.

Buck up. You’ve toughed it out this far and have succeeded. 

Do not hesitate to call your physician if you think you may be exhibiting signs of diabetes.  

 

Cindi Pearce is a graduate of Ohio University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in journalism back in the dark ages (aka before computers, the Internet and cell phones. Heck, before electric typewriters!) A former newspaper writer/columnist and photographer, her fiction and non-fiction work has been published in national magazines. A full-time freelance writer, as well as an avid gardener, an artist and yoga aficionado, Cindi is a Baby Boomer and proud of it. She has survived the gnarly challenges of the sandwich generation and lived to tell the tale. Cindi has somehow managed to stay married to her first and only husband for nearly 35 years. They are the parents of three grown children and the grandparents of one. She has five large, raucous dogs, five acres to mow on her beloved zero turn mower, and gets the biggest kick out of making people laugh on Facebook. (P.S. She refuses to cut her hair short.)