World Diabetes Day, observed annually on the 14th of November has a different theme every year in order to shed light on the condition, its latest medical developments, as well as how best to cope with the disorder and sustain a healthy lifestyle. This year’s theme is Women and Diabetes. The statistics supplied by the International Diabetes Federation show that there are over 199 million women worldwide currently living with diabetes. This total is predicted to rise substantially to 313 million by 2040. This year’s theme of Women and Diabetes is particularly pertinent as the impact of diabetes on women is largely exacerbated by social stressors such as “gender roles and power dynamics [that] influence [and increase] vulnerability to diabetes [as well as] affect access to health services and health-seeking behaviour for women” (Diabetes Focus).
Diabetes is the ninth leading cause of death amongst women worldwide and is responsible for approximately 2.1 million deaths a year. There are 3 types of diabetes mellitus, a group of chronic metabolic disorders characterized by high blood sugar levels. The initial symptoms of diabetes mellitus include weight loss, increased thirst, fatigue and hunger. To put it simply, Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas stops producing insulin. This means that those who suffer from Type 1 diabetes become dependent on insulin injections which are crucial in order to maintain bodily insulin levels and are an integral part of daily life. These dosages are carefully formulated in order to balance the glucose found in most foods and beverages. The onset of Type 1 diabetes generally occurs in people under the age of 30, also including children and infants and is often seen as appearing ‘out of the blue and has a dramatic onset’.
The vast majority of people with diabetes fall under the Type 2 classification. What this means is that the pancreas, the organ responsible for the body’s natural insulin production, either doesn’t produce enough, or the insulin that is produced is ineffective. Type 2 diabetics are often able to effectively manage their condition through the use of medication, weight loss and an increase in exercise – however, as its onset is generally gradual, it can go undiagnosed which can cause damage to other parts of the body during this period. Gestational Diabetes is the third and temporary form and occurs in pregnant women. The additional stress on the body caused by the pregnancy period can lead to a prolonged increase in blood sugar levels. However, while gestational diabetes is temporary, both the mother and child have an increased propensity for developing diabetes later on in life. Women, who suffer from Type 1 or 2 diabetes can face substantial difficulty in conceiving, and also run the risk of pregnancy complications including maternal and infant morbidity.
According to the International Diabetes Federation: “women with type 2 diabetes are almost ten times more likely to have heart disease, and women with type 1 diabetes have an increased risk of miscarriage or having a baby with malformations”. Therefore, this year’s campaign is aimed at promoting the “importance of affordable and equitable access for all women at risk for or living with diabetes” in order to increase awareness surrounding the condition, promote self-management education and “strengthen women’s capacity to prevent Type 2 diabetes”.