Difficulty in conceiving, miscarriages, malformed babies, and an overall poor outcome in pregnancies, are the major impacts of diabetes in women. With a very evident neglect of health issues faced by women, experts say that gestational and pre-gestational diabetes thus presents a much greater risk. Given the need of the hour to put forth this issue, this year’s theme for World Diabetes Day is fittingly ‘Women and Diabetes — Our Right to a Healthy Future’.
“In most cases, we see women, who juggle many different roles at home and work, approach the doctors very late. There is a tendency to ignore their health problems and an obvious lack of care at home,” says Mumbai-based diabetologist Dr. Rajiv Kovil, adding that a delay in diagnosis is seen in at least 40% of cases.
According to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), one in 10 women are living with diabetes, many of whom do not have access to healthcare and lack awareness about the disease. An even bigger problem is diabetes during pregnancy or uncontrolled diabetes before pregnancy — one is seven births is affected by gestational diabetes. Diabetes is also the ninth leading cause of death in women globally, causing 2.1 million deaths per year.
Dr. Kovil says that in the presence of gestational or pre-gestational diabetes, maternal sugar gets transferred to the foetus. “The unborn baby is not supposed to produce any insulin. But due to the sugar passed on by the mother, foetal insulin is produced. The foetal insulin triggers various anomalies in the child, like defects in the spinal cord, a larger head, heart anomalies etc.,” explains Dr. Kovil, adding that if diabetes is detected well in time, the sugar levels can be brought under control and a pregnancy can be planned afterward by withdrawing contraception. “Regular screening and timely diagnosis is thus very crucial,” he said.
Most experts observe that women seek help only when complications arise. Like in the case of a 40-year-old woman from Mumbai who suffered a heart attack. “She had no history of diabetes. But when we checked her sugar level, it was at 400. Normal sugar level hovers around 100,” said diabetologist Dr. Anil Bhoraskar, her treating doctor. The patient is now in an ICCU and may require a bypass surgery. “Such cases are common as women, especially from the middle and poor class, who rarely screen themselves,” said Dr. Bhoraskar. According to Dr. Bhoraskar, a diabetic female faces four times higher risk of developing heart ailments than men.