Menopause is not without its fair share of physical challenges. But, for women with diabetes, those challenges can sometimes be more difficult to cope with.
“Changing hormone levels during menopause can lead to fluctuations in blood sugar levels,” explains Rita El-Hajj, MD, endocrinologist at Main Line Endocrinology, located at Lankenau Medical Center. “For women with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, this can mean that the symptoms of menopause, like hot flashes, sexual issues, or weight gain, are more of a problem than they are for women without diabetes.”
Although the combination of diabetes and menopause has the potential to be an unpleasant pairing, it doesn’t have to be, says Dr. El-Hajj. If you’re living with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, or are pre-diabetic, you can take steps to help reduce worsened menopause symptoms. She explains what you can do in the years leading up to and during menopause to take charge.
Adapt your lifestyle
Diet and exercise are the most important components of any healthy lifestyle, and can help lessen many of the unpleasant symptoms brought on by menopause. Adapting a healthy lifestyle before you approach menopause and ensuring you’re under the care of a primary care physician and, if necessary, an endocrinologist, can go a long way in managing your health.
Pay close attention to your blood sugar
Patients with diabetes always need to monitor their blood sugar, but blood sugar levels are closely linked to many aspects of menopause. In addition to putting your health at risk, high blood sugar has been linked to sleep deprivation, recurring urinary tract infections and yeast infections.
“It’s important to perform blood sugar readings regularly but, during menopause, it may be necessary to perform them more often than usual to keep track of a series of high or low readings,” says Dr. El-Hajj.
If your blood sugar level increases or decreases, your physician may decided to adjust your diabetes medication accordingly.
Know your numbers
Although there is no established link between heart disease and menopause, studies do show that women’s heart health risks increase after menopause. Coupled with diabetes, also a heart disease risk factor, some women’s hearts can be at a serious risk. If you’re living with diabetes, make sure you ‘know your numbers:’ cholesterol, blood pressure, weight, and blood sugar.
“Blood sugar is an important number for patients with diabetes, but it’s just one of many important numbers that can provide an indication of your heart health,” says Dr. El-Hajj.
Address your menopause symptoms
As you continue to work with your primary care physician or endocrinologist to manage your diabetes, talk to your Ob/Gyn about the best ways to manage your menopause symptoms. Although some women may experience more severe menopause symptoms than others, addressing common concerns like hot flashes, vaginal dryness, weight gain, and sleep quality can help improve your quality of life during menopause.
“Working in tandem with your Ob/Gyn and endocrinologist can help manage some of the most common concerns that women with diabetes experience during menopause,” says Dr. El-Hajj. “Menopause can be uncomfortable at times, but it doesn’t have to be unbearable. Taking steps to address these symptoms through medication and lifestyle changes can make a big difference.”
Lankenau Medical Center was named one of the best hospitals in the nation and in the Philadelphia region for diabetes and endocrinology by U.S. News & World Report for 2015–16. Visit our website to learn more about Main Line Health's endocrinology services.