Diabetes is a serious health condition that affects women in all life stages. It is also unique to women because it can impact on the health of both a mother and her unborn children. With the increasing life span of women and the rapid growth of minority populations in the United States, the number of women at high risk for diabetes and its complications will continue to increase, placing added demands on the health care delivery system. This article examines the challenges and risks of diabetes in each stage of a woman's life.
Of the 15.7 million people with diabetes in the United States, more than half (8.1 million) are women. Minority racial and ethnic groups are the hardest hit by the disease. The prevalence of diabetes is at least 2-4 times higher among black, Hispanic, American Indian, and Asian Pacific Islander women than among white women.
About 90-95 percent of women with diabetes have type 2 (formerly called adult-onset) diabetes. Type 2 diabetes usually develops after age 40 and occurs when the body's cells become resistant to insulin. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas that allows glucose (sugar) to enter the body's cells and be converted to energy. Type 1 diabetes (formerly juvenile-onset) occurs because the pancreas makes little or no insulin.
Social, economic, and political barriers sometimes block high quality care and easy access to health care for women with diabetes. Social and economic issues will leave many older women with diabetes living alone and poor. Poverty is also a major concern for women of childbearing age who have diabetes.
Women with diabetes have a lower life expectancy than women without diabetes. The risk of heart disease, the most common complication of diabetes, is more serious among women than men. Among people with diabetes who have had a heart attack, women have lower survival rates and a poorer quality of life then men. Women are also at greater risk from blindness due to diabetes than men.
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