Updated 09 December 2019

Is diabetes more deadly for women than men?

Why does new research claim that the connection between diabetes and heart disease is particularly strong in women?

Diabetes might be more deadly for women than men, at least when it comes to heart troubles, new research shows.

Heart disease occurs an average of 15 years earlier in people with diabetes, and is their main cause of illness and death. In women, the connection between diabetes and heart disease is particularly strong.

Initial sign of heart disease

Worldwide, more women die due to diabetes than men, 2.1 million versus 1.8 million a year, the researchers said.

Coronary heart disease is the most common and deadly type of heart disease in people with diabetes. Women with diabetes have a 1.8 times higher risk of death from coronary heart disease than women without diabetes. Men with diabetes have a 1.5 times higher risk of death from coronary heart disease than men without diabetes.

Peripheral artery disease – which can eventually lead to foot amputation – is the most common initial sign of heart disease in type 2 diabetes patients, and it is 1.8 times more common in women than men.

Heart failure is the second most common initial sign of heart disease in type 2 diabetes patients. Women with diabetes have a five times higher risk of heart failure than women without diabetes, and men with diabetes have a two times higher risk than men without diabetes.

Researchers are trying to determine the reasons why heart failure is more common among women with diabetes than men with diabetes, according to the paper published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

Increased levels of obesity

The authors noted that the number of people with diabetes could jump to 629 million worldwide by 2040.

A healthy lifestyle is key to diabetes prevention. If people do develop diabetes, it's crucial to prevent heart complications.

"With the increased levels of obesity in our society, we have seen an enormous rise in the prevalence of diabetes. We know that type 2 diabetes is a lifestyle-related disease, so we can halt the trajectory with better behaviours," said senior author Joline Beulens, from the Amsterdam University Medical Centre, in the Netherlands.

"Lifestyle management is the first line of treatment for patients with diabetes," Beulens said in a journal news release. "If lifestyle doesn't sufficiently control glucose [blood sugar] levels and the risk of complications, then glucose-lowering treatment should be initiated as the second line of therapy."

Image credit: iStock


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Dr. May currently works as a fulltime endocrinologist and has been in private practice since 2004. He has a variety of interests, predominantly obesity and diabetes, but also sees patients with osteoporosis, thyroid disorders, men's health disorders, pituitary and adrenal disorders, polycystic ovaries, and disorders of growth. He is a leading member of several obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.

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