Over the last decade we've gained more insight into the diabetes and menopause connection. Menopause is a natural process women go through and is marked a reduction in estrogen and progesterone. The process ends when you have your last period. The transition can last for 10 years and familiar symptoms include hot flashes, irregular periods and mood swings.

If you have diabetes, it's likely you'll experience a different menopause than women who aren't diabetic. A study published in the journal Diabetes found that women with type 1 diabetes were twice as likely to experience menopause at an earlier age than women who weren't diabetic after adjusting for other factors. The researchers estimated that an earlier menopause resulted in a 17 percent decrease in reproductive years for women with type 1 diabetes.

However, menopause also causes additional complications for women with type 2 diabetes. According to the Mayo Clinic, women with diabetes and menopause endure a double-whammy effect as the two conditions may team up to create several effects on the body.

• Blood sugar level fluctuations. It's essential to manage your blood glucose levels when you have diabetes. However, menopause can set off blood glucose irregularities when estrogen and progesterone levels drop, as these hormones affect insulin. This makes it more difficult to control your diabetes and puts you at risk for diabetes complications such as nerve damage and vision problems.  

• Weight gain. Gaining extra pounds is another consequence of menopause. However, losing weight or maintaining a healthy body weight is critical to controlling diabetes. Menopause may increase your need for more insulin or other diabetes medication.

• Infections. High blood glucose levels may cause urinary and vaginal infections. Menopause and the drop in estrogen levels also increases the likelihood of developing these infections.

• Sleep problems. Menopause symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats disrupt your sleep. Diabetes is also linked to sleep disorders, including insomnia and disturbed sleep. Sleep deprivation makes it more difficult to control your blood glucose levels, explains the Mayo Clinic.

• Sexual problems. Menopause causes vaginal dryness, sensitivity and pain, which negatively affects your sex life. Similarly, neuropathy or nerve damage is a common side effect of diabetes and it can occur in the vaginal lining, making sex painful or unpleasant.

• Cardiovascular disease. Women with diabetes are already more at risk for cardiovascular (CVD) disease. Menopause is linked to higher lipid (blood fat) levels and an increased risk of CVD.

Better Ways to Cope with Diabetes and Menopause

Despite the additional health complications caused by diabetes and menopause, it's not all bad news. Consider that you're likely more disciplined in your lifestyle to cope with diabetes than people who aren't managing a chronic condition. Making a few more adjustments to cope with menopause may be annoying for you, but not impossible. Take advantage of these coping strategies:

• Change your diet. If you haven't already cut fats and added more vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and fish to your mealtimes to cope with diabetes, you'd be wise to do it when menopause strikes. Nutritious foods - including soy with its phytoestrogens - can help to prevent or shorten some menopause symptoms such as hot flashes or blood glucose fluctuations.

• Drink healthy beverages. Guilty favorites such as coffee and alcohol should be limited in your diet as well. Coffee and alcohol are diuretics that flush essential nutrients out of your body. Sodas and alcohol (or coffee with sugar or cream) increase your blood glucose levels as well.  

•  Exercise regularly. Physical activity helps to control blood sugar levels when you have diabetes. Plus, studies show that it relieves menopausal symptoms such as depression, stress and anxiety. Exercise also improves the quality of sleep you get.

• Monitor blood sugar frequently. When you have diabetes and menopause the Mayo Clinic recommends checking your blood glucose levels more often during the day and occasionally at night. If menopause is making it more difficult to control your blood glucose levels, your doctor may need to adjust your treatment plan and diabetes medications.

• Manage menopause symptoms. Your doctor may recommend menopausal hormone therapy (also called hormone replacement therapy). Menopausal hormone therapy reduces hot flashes, bone loss and vaginal discomfort, and may relieve depression and mood swing. Some women also report relief from herbs such as black cohosh, dong quai, valerian root, or wild yam. You can also use vaginal lubricants to cope with vaginal symptoms.

• Follow a bedtime ritual. A bedtime routine will improve your sleep. Don't exercise, eat or drink alcohol, coffee or tea late at night. Take a warm bath about 90 minutes before bedtime. Do deep-breathing exercises or gentle stretches an hour before bed. Use white noise and try to go to bed at the same time every night.

Coping with diabetes and menopause can be a challenge. But take comfort in the fact that menopause does come to an end. The more you know about both conditions, the better you'll be able to manage them and live your life.

Source: The Mayo Clinic

Study Reference

Journal Name: Diabetes, Vol. 50  No. 8  pp. 1857-1862

Study Date: August 2001  

Study Name: Menopause in Type 1 Diabetic Women: Is it Premature?

Website: http://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/50/8/1857.full#sec-4

Authors: . Janice S. Dorman, Ann R. Steenkiste, Thomas P. Foley, Elsa S. Strotmeyer, James P. Burke, Lewis H. Kuller and C. Kent Kwoh