Diabetes Symptoms in Women: What Are They?

By Craig Sorkin, DNP, APN
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
October 14, 2022

Type 2 diabetes affects both women and men, but women can have some symptoms that are specific to them. In this article, we’ll discuss how diabetes specifically affects women’s health, as well as symptoms, how diabetes affects pregnancy, risk factors, and treatments. We’ll also cover how to know when you need to see a medical provider for diabetes care. 

How Diabetes Affects Women and Men Differently

Women and men can both get diabetes. But some types of symptoms can appear different in women and men, usually relating to sexual, hormonal, reproductive, or urological health.

In both women and men, signs of diabetes can include:

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Symptoms of Diabetes in Women

Women with diabetes may experience some unique symptoms of diabetes.

Vaginal and oral yeast infections and vaginal thrush

Yeast infections can be a common female health problem. They’re not unique to women who have diabetes, but diabetes can increase the likelihood of getting Candida. Diabetes leads to high blood sugar levels, and when uncontrolled, can alter circulation, blood vessel health, and overall immune function. This can make it easier for fungal infections, like Candida, to thrive in the body.

While vaginal yeast infections are common, yeast overgrowth can happen in the mouth, too. This is known as oral thrush.

Symptoms of vaginal yeast infections include:

  • Vaginal discharge that may appear white or cottage-cheese-like
  • Itching
  • Soreness
  • Painful urination
  • Painful intercourse

Symptoms of oral yeast infections include:

  • A white film or coating on the tongue, cheeks, tonsils, or gums
  • Redness, soreness, or pain in the mouth that may make it hard to eat and drink

Urinary infections

Women can get urinary tract infections (UTIs) for many reasons, but the risk goes up in those who have diabetes. Uncontrolled blood sugar can reduce how well the immune system can eliminate bacteria, the pathogen that causes UTIs. Diabetes also increases the risk of bacterial infections being harder to treat.

Urinary tract infections cause symptoms that include:

  • Bloody or cloudy urine
  • Burning sensation when urinating
  • Painful urination
  • Feeling the need to urinate constantly

UTIs must be treated promptly and thoroughly to avoid the risk of bacteria migrating from the urinary tract into the kidneys. UTIs that become kidney infections can progress and lead to severe health risks, including sepsis.

Female sexual dysfunction

Diabetes can cause sexual problems in women, including low libido and problems having an orgasm.

Diabetes can damage blood vessels and nerves when glucose levels are uncontrolled. This can lead to poor circulation, which can decrease sex drive. Loss of nerve function can also make it more difficult to achieve orgasm.

Polycystic ovary syndrome

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a female reproductive disorder that involves imbalanced hormones. Androgens like testosterone go up, while other hormones may be disrupted because of higher androgen levels.

PCOS includes symptoms like:

  • Irregular periods
  • Weight gain
  • Acne
  • Hirsutism (excessive hair growth)
  • Depression
  • Infertility
  • Insulin resistance

PCOS increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Pregnancy and Diabetes

People who have either type 1 or type 2 diabetes can safely get pregnant. It is important to make sure that diabetes is well-controlled prior to conceiving and to work closely with your medical care team during pregnancy. People with diabetes may receive extra testing or monitoring during pregnancy, depending on other health factors and age.

It is essential to control diabetes during pregnancy because high glucose levels can lead to birth defects, fetal growth problems, and an increase in the risk of stillbirth.

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes occurs only during pregnancy. Pregnancy hormones can affect how the body responds to insulin, which can cause some people to develop diabetes only during pregnancy. In most cases, gestational diabetes does not start until the second trimester. All pregnant people are screened using a glucose tolerance test between 24-28 weeks. Some people may fail the first round of testing, but pass a more extensive test. Others will have elevated glucose levels after both rounds of testing and will be diagnosed with gestational diabetes.

It is not possible to cure or prevent gestational diabetes, but like other types of diabetes, it can be managed with medication, diet, and exercise. It is possible to have a safe pregnancy with gestational diabetes with careful medical and lifestyle management.

Women who get gestational diabetes are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

Risk Factors for Diabetes in Women

Risk factors for diabetes include:

  • Being over age 45
  • Family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Prediabetes
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Giving birth to a baby larger than 9 pounds
  • Overweight or obesity
  • PCOS
  • Increased abdominal fat
  • Lack of physical activity or sedentary lifestyle
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Certain race/ethnicity including African American, Alaska Native, American Indian, Asian-American, Hispanic, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander

Diabetes Treatments for Women

In addition to managing blood sugar and insulin, there are specific factors that are unique to treating diabetes in women.

Switching birth control

Contraceptives are used by women for many reasons that extend beyond preventing pregnancy. While these medications have become an essential part of women’s health care, certain types of birth control medication can increase glucose levels. In women who have diabetes, this can make it harder to control glucose and insulin.

Medical providers can recommend alternative birth control medication that may have less of an effect on diabetes symptoms.

Yeast infection medications

High levels of blood sugar can cause or worsen yeast infections by making them harder to treat. Hyperglycemia suppresses how well the immune system is able to respond to fungal infections like Candida that thrive in high-sugar environments.

Over-the-counter yeast infection medication can be effective, although women with diabetes may experience recurrent infections or harder to treat cases. These may require prescription treatment as well as specific dietary and lifestyle changes to control glucose.

Diabetes medication

There are many medications that are used to help control blood sugar levels and the body’s insulin response.

Commonly prescribed diabetes medications include:

Lifestyle changes

In many cases, type 2 diabetes can be effectively managed with medication and lifestyle changes. A medical provider may recommend the following ways to support balanced blood sugar and insulin response in diabetes:

  • Regular physical activity (at least 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week)
  • Avoidance of smoking or tobacco use
  • Limited alcohol intake
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight and body mass index (BMI)
  • Eating a diet rich in fiber from vegetables, fruits, and whole grains
  • Minimizing salt, saturated fat, and added sugars
  • Consuming anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats from foods like salmon, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and walnuts
  • Supporting healthy vitamin D levels

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When to See a Medical Provider

If you have questions about symptoms or wonder whether you could have diabetes, check in with a medical provider. Diabetes can be diagnosed from simple blood tests.

If you notice unexpected weight loss, fatigue, and other signs of diabetes, consult a healthcare provider. While type 1 diabetes mostly develops in childhood (it is sometimes called juvenile diabetes), it can happen in adults. Type 1 diabetes can come on suddenly over a few weeks. Type 2 diabetes may produce no symptoms for a long time, or may show no signs for years.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the 10 early signs of diabetes?
Ten early signs of diabetes are: excessive hunger, increased thirst, frequent urination, blurry vision, fatigue, changes to skin appearance, slow wound healing, numbness or tingling in the hands and feet, bacterial or fungal infections, and unintended weight loss.
How do I know if I'm starting with diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes may take years to show signs or symptoms. A simple fasting blood glucose plasma test can determine whether blood sugar levels are normal, elevated (prediabetes), or high (diabetes). Fasting blood sugar that is 126 mg/dL or higher indicates diabetes.
What are the 3 most common symptoms of undiagnosed diabetes?
Blurry vision, excessive hunger and thirst, and frequent urination may all be common signs of undiagnosed diabetes.
How does diabetes affect a woman?
Diabetes can cause common symptoms that affect men and women, like frequent urination or increased thirst. It can also cause symptoms that only appear in women, like frequent urinary tract infections, yeast infections, or changes to sexual function.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

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Craig Sorkin, DNP, APN

Craig Sorkin, DNP, APN is a board certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over 15 years experience. He received his Undergraduate and Graduate degrees from William Paterson University and his doctoral degree from Drexel University. He has spent his career working in the Emergency Room and Primary Care. The last 6 years of his career have been dedicated to the field of digital medicine. He has created departments geared towards this specialized practice as well as written blogs and a book about the topic.