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Type 2 Diabetes and Women

Special concerns if you’re a woman with type 2 diabetes.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

For women, living with type 2 diabetes can be tough. Diabetes brings many other health risks that you need to know about.   

For instance, women with type 2 diabetes are more likely than other women to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or heart disease.

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The good news: A healthy lifestyle and solid medical care can halt those risks.

Here's what every woman with type 2 diabetes needs to know.

The Heart of the Matter

Type 2 diabetes makes heart disease -- the top killer of U.S. women -- more likely.  

Women with diabetes are as likely to have a heart attack as someone who has already had a heart attack. Compared to men, women with diabetes are more likely to have a heart attack and to die from it. And they tend to have a poorer quality of life than men.

“Nobody knows for sure why these heart risks are different for women than men - whether it’s hormones or socioeconomic factors or some combination of those two,” says ob-gyn and diabetes educator Cassandra Henderson, MD, of New York’s Montefiore Medical Center.

If you’re a woman with type 2 diabetes, your blood pressure needs to be closely monitored, Henderson says. High blood pressure also makes stroke, kidney disease, and vision problems more likely, so it’s a key part of diabetes management. Keeping your cholesterol levels in check will also help protect your heart.

Planning on Getting Pregnant?

Type 2 diabetes usually strikes after age 40. But it's on the rise in younger women, mainly because of obesity.

That means many women now have type 2 diabetes during their childbearing years. And that can be risky.

If you have type 2 diabetes and plan to get pregnant, see your doctor. You need a plan to keep your blood sugar level under control. That will help your odds of a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. High blood sugar levels, particularly early in pregnancy, can increase risk of birth defects.

A healthy pregnancy is possible when you have type 2 diabetes. But it takes work.

A woman with a high blood sugar level is more likely to give birth to a baby with low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia) and jaundice. She's also more likely to have a larger baby, which makes for a more difficult delivery.

You may need to see an ob-gyn who specializes in high-risk pregnancies. Your doctor should check on your diabetes drugs, because some shouldn't be taken during pregnancy. As a result, you may need to take insulin.

Of course, a healthy diet and exercise are a must. That's true for everyone, but for pregnant women with type 2 diabetes, it's especially important to help control blood sugar levels.

You'll also need to check your blood sugar level frequently -- up to eight times daily -- while you're pregnant, to flag any blood sugar level spikes.

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If the level is below 70 and you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

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