Prevalence of Diabetes in Women

As a woman with diabetes, you have plenty of company. About 13 million women have diabetes, that about one in 10 women over age 20—have diabetes.

Other facts include:

  • The average age of diagnosis for women is 55 years old
  • Certain racial and ethnic groups are at higher risk for diabetes. These include African Americans, Hispanics, American Indians, Native Hawaiian-Pacific Islander, and Asian Americans.

If you have diabetes, you probably know about the potential for eye and foot problems. But how much do you know about the most common complication of diabetes cardiovascular disease?

The fact is, people with diabetes are up to four times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than are people who do not have diabetes. Overall, women with diabetes have a 31% risk of heart disease or stroke

Unfortunately, about one-third of women with diabetes do not know they have the disease. For all these reasons, Cleveland Clinic experts in diabetes and heart disease recommend that every woman have her blood glucose tested, particularly those women with a family history of diabetes.

When you know you have diabetes based on the results of a blood test, you can take steps to manage your condition and live a longer, healthier life.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease of the pancreas. Situated behind the stomach, the pancreas is the organ responsible for producing the hormone insulin. After food is eaten, it is broken down into glucose, the simple sugar that is the main source of energy for the body's cells. Insulin helps glucose enter the cells where it is converted to energy.

In diabetes, the pancreas either cannot produce enough insulin, cannot use insulin correctly or both. When insulin does not function properly, glucose cannot enter the cells. As a result, glucose levels in the blood increase and the cells lack the energy they need to function.

There are two forms of diabetes:

  • Type 1: also known as insulin-dependent or juvenile diabetes.
  • Type 2: also known as adult-onset diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is the more common form of the disease in the United States.

Reducing heart disease risk

The following risk factors are associated with diabetes.

High blood cholesterol

People with diabetes are more likely to have high blood cholesterol, including higher LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (a form of fat derived from fats and oils), and lower HDL cholesterol.

High blood pressure

Diabetes is associated with high blood pressure. This can be managed through diet, exercise and medication. But be aware that some blood pressure medications may affect your blood glucose (sugar) levels. Your doctor can help you find the best strategy for controlling your blood pressure, including the right medication for you.

Obesity

Obesity is a major cardiovascular risk factor and strongly associated with insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes. Obesity is also associated with high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol.

Physical Inactivity

Physical inactivity is a risk factor for insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes. Regular moderate activity can help control blood sugars, blood pressure, cholesterol and weight.

Peripheral Artery Disease

People with diabetes are at higher risk for peripheral artery disease, or decreased blood supply to the legs and feet.

Kidney disease

The combination of high blood pressure and high blood glucose levels that occurs in people with diabetes creates a significant risk for kidney (renal) disease. Over time, diabetic kidneys lose their ability to filter waste products from the blood and can eventually fail completely. In addition to the problems caused by kidney failure, kidney disease is linked to a higher risk for heart disease that is independent of other risk factors.

Take preventive action

As a woman with diabetes, the most important action you can take to reduce your risk of diabetes-related complications is to manage your disease to the best of your ability. You probably already know the tools to accomplish this: proper diet, regular exercise and medication. Your doctor and dietitian are the professionals who are best equipped to help you put these tools to work for you.

Treatment Options

Statins

There is strong data that demonstrate a reduction in the risk of heart disease in women (and men) who have diabetes when LDL cholesterol levels are reduced with medication.

Statins, a class of drugs that lower LDL cholesterol, are proven to reduce the risk of heart disease by as much as 30 percent in patients who do not have diabetes. While clinical trials have shown that statins may increase blood sugar in a small percentage of people, they have also shown that in people with diabetes, taking statins reduces LDL levels and leads to significant reductions in the incidence of heart disease, stroke and overall mortality.

Metformin

There is evidence that supports metformin as a first line therapy for Type 2 diabetes. Metformin as Monotherapy, in a recent systemic review and meta-analysis was associated with reduced cardiovascular mortality relative to sulfonylurea monotherapy.

Make an Appointment with a Specialist

  • To make an appointment with a Cleveland Clinic expert in diabetes, call the Department of Endocrinology at 216.444.6568 or toll-free 800.223.2273, ext. 4-6568.
  • To make an appointment with a specialist in the Women’s Cardiovascular Center, please call 216.444.9353 or toll-free 800.223.2273 ext. 4-9353.

More Information

If you need more information, click here to contact us, chat online with a nurse or call the Miller Family Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute Resource & Information Nurse at 216.445.9288 or toll-free at 866.289.6911. We would be happy to help you.

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