If you have diabetes and are going through perimenopause or menopause, there are a few things you should know about blood sugar dysregulation and how to stay healthy through this time of hormonal change. Even if you don’t have diabetes, a little knowledge about how menopause can affect blood sugar levels is recommended.
What is blood sugar dysregulation?
Blood sugar levels are said to be unregulated or dysregulated when the pancreas is unable to produce insulin or to use it properly in the body. The result is insulin resistance, which slows down the transportation of sugar into the body’s cells. Since your cells need sugar for you to have energy, too little sugar can result in various symptoms, including fatigue, excessive hunger and/or thirst, shaking, nausea, vomiting, mental confusion, headache, blurry vision, and more.
What is the association between menopause and blood sugar dysregulation?
Women should know a few things about menopause and blood sugar dysregulation. Those who have diabetes may confuse the symptoms of high or low blood sugar with those of menopause, since some are the same. Irritability, waking up at night, sweating, dizziness, and difficulty concentrating are just a few examples. In such cases, it’s recommended you test your blood sugar. If you don’t have a diagnosis of diabetes but have not been tested, then you should talk to your doctor about a fasting blood sugar test. Results of less than 100 milligrams per deciliter (mm/dL) are ideal. If the figure is higher, you should ask for a hemoglobin A1C test.
Women who test within the prediabetes range (fasting glucose of 100 mg/dL to 124 mg/dL and hemoglobin A1C of 5.7% to 6.4%) should talk to their healthcare provider about lifestyle changes and diet to help manage blood sugar levels. These measures can help prevent full-blown type 2 diabetes.
Menopause and blood sugar dysregulation can team up to affect your body in several ways. Here are a few of the changes your body may go through during these times.
- Estrogen and progesterone have an impact on how your cells respond to insulin. After menopause, hormonal fluctuations can result in changes in blood sugar levels as well. If you already have diabetes, your blood sugar levels may go up and down more than they did in earlier years. This can place you at a greater risk of having diabetic complications.
- For women with type 1 diabetes, more frequent episodes of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) may be the first indication that hormone levels are decreasing and that insulin use may need to be adjusted.
- It’s not unusual to gain weight during the menopausal transition and postmenopause. If you are taking diabetes medication, you may need to adjust your dosage.
- High blood sugar levels can play a role in causing vaginal and urinary tract infections. That’s because the decline in estrogen levels makes it easier for yeast and bacteria to survive better in the vagina and urinary tract.
- Nerve damage from blood sugar dysregulation can affect cells in the vagina. Such damage may have a negative impact on sexual arousal and may also contribute to pain during sexual intercourse.
- The occurrence of hot flashes and night sweats may contribute to poor sleep and insomnia. This in turn can make it more difficult to manage your blood sugar levels.
How to manage blood sugar dysregulation
You can safely manage blood sugar levels and avoid dysregulation by following some lifestyle tips.
- Don’t allow yourself to become dehydrated. This is easy to do in some climates. If you don’t have enough fluid in your body, the sugar in your bloodstream will become more concentrated, which can result in more frequent urination and thus dehydration.
- Maintain a healthy diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, nuts and seeds, and lean protein. Meals and snacks should be on a regular schedule to prevent swings in blood sugar levels.
- Exercise for at least 30 minutes every day. Physical activity helps regulate blood sugar.
- Use of artificial sweeteners can cause blood sugar levels to spike. It’s recommended you limit your consumption of foods and beverages with these additives.
- Measure your blood sugar often. You may need to check it more frequently than you have in the past. Keep a record of your readings and symptoms so you and your doctor can make any adjustments to your treatment if needed.
- If you travel, whether it’s a day trip, a weekend, a week or longer, it’s easy to forget to follow healthy habits, such as nutritious food choices, exercise, and stress management. Create a journal or diary and keep track of your meals, stress, exercise, work, and other activities. Note when your energy levels are high and low and what you were doing before they changed.
When to see your doctor
If you have already been diagnosed with diabetes and are in perimenopause or menopause, it’s a good idea to consult with your doctor about any medication changes you may need to make and how to reduce or eliminate medication if possible. If you have not been diagnosed with diabetes, you are experiencing symptoms of blood sugar dysregulation, and you have not been tested for prediabetes or diabetes, talk to your doctor as soon as possible.
Some symptoms of blood sugar dysregulation are similar to or the same as those associated with perimenopause and menopause. The action you take to help you manage those symptoms can depend on whether you already have a diagnosis of diabetes, you have been tested and don’t have diabetes, or you have not been tested. Knowledge is power!