Managing Diabetes During Menopause

Whether anticipated with dread, joy or neutral acceptance, menopause comes with physical changes that deliver unique challenges to women with diabetes.

As a diabetic woman’s body adjusts to its new levels of estrogen and progesterone during menopause, it is likely she will notice her blood glucose becoming more unpredictable. This happens because hormones play a part in how cells react to insulin. Some women also gain weight during the menopausal shift, affecting a diabetic person’s need for oral medication or insulin.

The duo of diabetes and menopause raises the risk of vaginal and urinary infections as well. High blood sugar levels associated with diabetes increase the incidence of infection. When estrogen levels fall during menopause, yeast and bacteria have an even easier time thriving in the vagina and urinary tract.

Two more areas of life affected by blood glucose and hormonal fluctuations are sleep and sex. Night sweats and hot flashes during menopause might disrupt a woman’s sleep, and a lack of shut-eye can make diabetes management more difficult. The vaginal dryness that sometimes accompanies menopause can cause discomfort during sex, and sexual intimacy might already be complicated by diabetic nerve damage in the vaginal lining.

Five Things that help Manage Diabetes and Menopause

There are several measures women can take to manage the double whammy of diabetes and menopause.

  1. You may need to monitor your blood sugar more frequently during the day and maybe during the night, keeping an accurate log of glucose levels and any symptoms experienced. This will help you and your doctor adjust treatment regimens or medications if necessary.
  2. Eating nutritious foods and getting regular exercise are important aspects of both diabetes and menopause management. You might talk to your doctor about taking vitamins or herbal supplements (e.g., black cohosh, evening primrose) to soften the effects of your changing hormones.
  3. Stay in touch with your doctor concerning medication. Some women need to increase the dose of their diabetes medication or start new treatments if their blood sugar level average rises at menopause. This is especially true for those who become less physically active or gain weight.
  4. There are treatments available for the diminished sexual response and vaginal dryness of menopause. For instance, you can ask your doctor about vaginal lubricants or about vaginal estrogen therapy to address the inflammation and thinning of vaginal walls. If you are gaining weight on your current diet, consider making an appointment with a dietician to discuss options.
  5. People with diabetes are at an increased risk of heart disease, and the risk grows with the onset of menopause. Have your cholesterol-levels checked annually. Regular exercise and a healthy diet may be adequate to maintain cardiovascular health, but your doctor might suggest using a cholesterol lowering medication.

It may be a bumpy ride, but by combining menopause wisdom with good diabetes management women can adjust to their bodies' changes and thrive.

Source: Mayo Clinic
Photo credit: Hindrik Sijens / flickr creative commons

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