Currently, the number of people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK is estimated to be 3.5 million and it is estimated that more than one in 16 people in the UK has diabetes (diagnosed or undiagnosed).
If nothing changes, more than five million people will have diabetes in the UK by 2025.
Diabetes seems brings with it a variety of long-term complications, but at least one of those — heart failure — is a bigger threat to women than men, new research suggests.
Why diabetes is a health risk
The excess blood sugar in diabetes can wreak havoc on blood vessels all over the body and cause complications.
It can severely damage the eyes, kidneys, nerves, and other body parts; cause sexual problems; and double the risk of heart attack and stroke.
The risk difference was even more pronounced for women with type 1 diabetes.
“Our global review of 12 million people shows that having diabetes increases the risk of heart failure in both women and men. However, this increase is greater for women than men.”
This quote was from study author Toshiaki Ohkuma. He’s an honorary senior fellow at The George Institute for Global Health at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.
One of Ohkuma’s co-authors, Sanne Peters, quantified these differences.
“Type 1 diabetes was associated with a 5.15 times higher risk of heart failure in women and a 3.47 times higher risk in men — meaning a 47% higher risk of heart failure for women compared to men,” she explained.
Peters noted that women with type 2 diabetes — the more common form of diabetes — had nearly twice the risk of having heart failure. That means the risk of heart failure is 9% higher for women with type 2 diabetes compared to men.
Heart failure risk
Heart failure is not the same as a heart attack. During a heart attack, the heart is starved of blood and oxygen, leaving part of the heart damaged.
In heart failure, the heart isn’t able to pump blood efficiently and this means the body may not be getting enough blood and oxygen.
Although the new research wasn’t designed to tease out a definitive cause of the increased risk, the researchers suspect that under-treatment of diabetes in women may play a role.
The study authors also noted that other heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, seem to be more common in women than in men. Certainly high blood pressure is common at menopause due to a number of factors.
Ohkuma also pointed out that women may have had prolonged exposure to high blood sugar levels, which can affect the heart’s ability to function. It can take up to two years longer for women to be diagnosed with diabetes than men and often spend longer in the ‘prediabetes’ stage than men.
How to reduce your risk
So, what can someone with diabetes, especially a woman with type 1 diabetes, do to lessen the risk of heart failure?
A healthy lifestyle and controlling high blood pressure, diabetes and coronary heart disease are all important for preventing heart failure.
None of this is new, it is a case of actually following it and our best friends are a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and not smoking. These are all important in preventing heart failure.
At menopause in particular hormone balance is vital to prevent the excess weight linked to oestrogen balance and maintain that healthy weight.
You should have your cholesterol (blood fats) and blood pressure checked at least once a year. Diabetes increases your risk of heart disease and stroke, so it’s important that high blood pressure and high cholesterol are spotted and treated early.
If you’re already being treated for high cholesterol and high blood pressure, regularly review their effectiveness with your doctor.
If you have a family history of heart failure, or you have high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol and excess weight, it’s important to take action as soon as possible to reduce the risk of heart failure and diabetes.
Diabetes also worsens the effects of smoking on your heart so stopping smoking and lowering your HbA1c levels, blood fats and blood pressure will prevent or slow down any potential complications.
Giving up smoking is the best thing you can do if you have diabetes because smoking makes it even harder for blood to flow around your body.
Weight gain and oestrogen dominance often go hand in hand at menopause so following the advice above and ensuring you have good hormone balance will go a long way to reducing any potential risks.
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