Effective diabetes management may look different in later life than it did when you were younger—particularly during perimenopause and menopause. During these times, many women find that the strategies that were once effective for them no longer produce the same results.
The hormonal changes you experience during perimenopause and menopause can affect how your body responds to insulin, making it difficult to keep blood glucose levels within your target range. But it’s not a one-way relationship; diabetes can affect when menopause starts while also aggravating certain menopause symptoms. Learning how diabetes affects menopause and how menopause affects diabetes can help you create new habits that support stability through your transition.
What Are Perimenopause and Menopause?“Perimenopause” means “around menopause” and refers to the years leading up to menopause, aka the menopause transition. Most women experience perimenopause in their 40s, but it can start as early as your 30s and can last from a few months to ten years. During perimenopause, you may experience symptoms such as the following:
- Irregular periods
- Hot flashes
- Sleeping troubles
- Night sweats
- Changes in mood
- Changes in libido
- Vaginal dryness
- Weight gain and slowed metabolism
- Dry skin and thinning of hair
These symptoms arise due to fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone levels that occur during your fertility transition.
Once you’ve gone 12 consecutive months without having a menstrual period, you’ve officially transitioned from perimenopause to menopause. Natural menopause can happen in your 40s or 50s, with the average age being 51.
Does Diabetes Affect Menopause?
Diabetes affects metabolic processes in the body and consequently can affect female sex hormones. At the same time, menopause can affect blood glucose levels. In other words, diabetes can affect menopause, and menopause can affect diabetes.
So, how does diabetes affect menopause?
It’s important to understand that both diabetes and menopause can impact everyone differently. However, research suggests that diabetes may affect menopause in the following ways:
- Diabetes is associated with early menopause (menopause before the age of 45). One study found that diabetes triples the risk of early menopause.
- High blood glucose levels, such as those experienced by people with poorly controlled diabetes, can contribute to urinary tract and vaginal infections. This is true anytime, not just during the menopause transition. However, after menopause, the risk of a urinary tract or vaginal infection increases. This can be due to thinning of vaginal tissue, difficulty fully emptying your bladder, and changes in bacteria and yeast levels in the urinary tract and vagina.
During the menopause transition, three major things can affect your ability to manage your diabetes:
During the menopause transition, your body’s production of estrogen and progesterone ebbs and flows. Fluctuations in these hormone levels can trigger fluctuations in blood glucose levels. Many women in perimenopause notice that their blood glucose levels change more quickly and/or more often than before, making it difficult to maintain glycemic control and effectively manage diabetes.
The hormonal changes that occur during the menopause transition can make it difficult to maintain a healthy weight. Additionally, muscle mass typically decreases while fat increases. Excess weight around the waist can cause insulin resistance, making either the insulin your body produces or the insulin you inject less effective.
Sleep disorders affect 39-47% of perimenopausal women and 35-60% of postmenopausal women. During perimenopause and postmenopause, symptoms such as night sweats and hot flashes can indirectly affect your ability to manage your diabetes. Night sweats and hot flashes contribute to difficulty sleeping, which in turn can affect diabetes management. Researchers have found that poor sleep quality and late bedtimes are associated with higher blood sugar and diminished blood glucose control at the next meal.
Supporting Stability Through the Menopause Transition
The transition to menopause is often a transformative time in your life, both physically and emotionally. While managing diabetes during menopause can be challenging, there are things you can do to support your health and well-being.
Consult with your healthcare team
Because the menopause transition can cause your blood glucose levels to fluctuate and/or behave differently than you’re used to, it’s important to work closely with your healthcare team during this transition. Your healthcare team can help you determine whether your treatment plan needs to be modified. They may recommend changing or adjusting your diabetes medications or starting hormone replacement therapy.
Check your glucose levels often and keep track of changes
Glucose monitoring is your primary tool for determining whether your glucose levels are within your target range. As your estrogen and progesterone levels rise and fall, glucose levels can also fluctuate. To account for these changes and prevent diabetes-related complications, it’s important to check your glucose levels often and track changes.
One of the easiest and fastest ways to check glucose levels is with an automatic blood glucose monitor (ABGM). Unlike a traditional blood glucose monitor (BGM) that requires separate test strips and lancets, an ABGM, such as POGO Automatic®, automates the testing process. Instead of handling multiple components, you simply press a button and get accurate results within seconds. It’s that simple.
Prioritize self-care and manage cardiovascular risk factors
The menopause transition increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Additionally, those with diabetes are twice as likely to have heart disease and stroke. Prioritizing diabetes self-care tasks, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep, can not only help you to manage your diabetes but also promote heart health.
Watch for urinary tract and vaginal infections
Because the risk of urinary tract and vaginal infections is higher during the menopause transition, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms. Watch for signs such as a persistent urge to urinate, a burning sensation while urinating, changes in urine or vaginal discharge color and/or odor, and vaginal itching.
Create a support system
Social support can play a pivotal role in your diabetes management journey, especially during the menopause transition, when you may be experiencing new life challenges. If you’re struggling with mental health issues during this time, getting the right kind of support can make all the difference. In addition to working with a mental health professional, you might consider joining a diabetes support group, confiding in friends and family, or consulting a certified diabetes care education specialist (CDCES).
Staying on Track with Diabetes Management
Diabetes can affect menopause and vice versa. Strategies and tools that once worked for you may not be as effective as they were. But the menopause transition can be a valuable opportunity to discover new ways to support your health. By working with your healthcare team to optimize your diabetes management plan, making self-care a priority, and finding tools that make day-to-day management easier, you can set yourself up for success.
Robert Miller is a customer experience specialist committed to helping people navigate the world of diabetes. He focuses on finding innovative tools and strategies that make diabetes management easier to support long-term wellness.
All content on this website is for educational purposes only and does not replace the guidance of your healthcare practitioner. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new healthcare regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.