Women With Diabetes May Have Greater Risk of Heart Disease Than Men

By Robert Ehrman, MD


Diabetes has become one of the most common medical problems in adults. You may know that diabetes can lead to many other health problems, such as loss of vision, kidney problems, and nerve damage. You probably also know that having diabetes can increase your risk for having a heart attack or a stroke.

For a long time, health experts thought that these risks were greater in men. However, according to the results of a new study, just the opposite might be true—it could be that women have the highest risk. Plus, it seems the longer you have the disease, the greater your risk.


How does diabetes lead to heart disease?

Experts aren’t exactly sure how diabetes increases your risk for heart disease, but they know it does. The think that the problems come from having blood sugar that is too high for a long time. All that extra glucose in your blood leads to damage to blood vessels in different parts of you body.

Damage to blood vessels in the eye can lead to blindness, and damage to blood vessels in the heart can lead to heart attacks. High glucose can also damage nerves in your body, which can lead to numbness and tingling in your hands and feet.

The longer you’ve had diabetes and the higher your blood sugar levels, the greater your risk for damage. This is why it’s so important to know if you have the disease.

You might think it’s impossible for someone to have diabetes and not know it, but according to the American Diabetes Association, there are at least 7 million people in the United States who have diabetes or pre-diabetes and don’t know it! Past research suggests that some people could have diabetes for as long as 10 years before they find out they have it!


The research

The study included about 74,000 people aged 25 and older. About 15,000 of them had diabetes, and of these, around 9,500 didn’t find out they had the disease until many years after it started.

The researchers then counted several different health-related outcomes for people in the study, including:

  • Death from any cause
  • Death from heart disease
  • The number of times they were put in the hospital


Then, they compared the results between men and women in the study. They also compared the results between people who found out they had the disease early to those who didn’t find out they had it until much later.

What the researchers wanted to know was:

  1. Are women with diabetes more likely to have these problems than men?
  2. Do people who find out late that they have diabetes have a higher risk of these problems?


The results

The results of the study showed that both men and women with diabetes had a higher risk for these health problems than people without diabetes, and the risk was greatest in women.

Compared to women without diabetes, women with diabetes:

  • Have a risk of dying from any cause that is about three-quarters (75-percent) greater
  • Have more than twice the risk of being put in the hospital for heart problems


For women who didn’t find out about their diabetes until they’d had it for a while:

  • The risk of death from heart disease was about 6 times greater than for women without diabetes
  • The risk of being put in the hospital for heart disease was about 5 times greater than for women without diabetes


The risks of these same outcomes in men who found out late about their diabetes were about half what they were in women.


What do these results mean for you?

            These results suggest that both men and women with diabetes are:

  • More likely to die
  • Die at a younger age
  • Spend more time in the hospital
  • At a much higher risk of heart disease


The risks for women with diabetes are greater than the risks for men with diabetes. Other results from this same study found that women were less likely to get their A1C checked, use insulin, or take medicine to lower cholesterol. All of these things could increase women’s risk for heart disease and death.


The take home points

  • Diabetes is a huge health problem in the US
  • Many people with diabetes don’t know they have it
  • Having diabetes increases your risk for being put in the hospital, getting heart disease, and even dying
  • The longer you have diabetes, even if you don’t know it, the greater your risks
  • Women with diabetes have greater risks for these health problems than men with diabetes
  • Women with diabetes might not be getting all the treatments they need to take care of their disease
  • Talk to your healthcare provider at your next office visit about whether you need to be tested for diabetes, or if you already have it, if you’re taking all the medicines you need



  • Register For This Twitter Chat Series

    When you register, we will send you timely reminders about upcoming Twitter chats via email.

    Simply enter your email address below and click on the "Register Me" button.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Constance Brown-Riggs, MSEd, RD, CDE, CDN—an award-winning RD, certified diabetes educator, and past national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is the author of The African American Guide to Living Well With Diabetes, which received the Favorably Reviewed designation from the American Association of Diabetes Educators, and Eating Soulfully and Healthfully with Diabetes.

Dr. Lori Shemek, PhD, CNC, CLC, the best-selling author of “Fire-Up Your Fat Burn! and leading health and weight loss expert, is also known as “The Inflammation Terminator.” She has made it her mission to educate the public on the toxic effects of certain foods and lifestyle choices and how they create inflammation in the body. She is a leading authority on inflammation and its role in weight loss, preventing disease and optimizing health.

Rebecca Bitzer – MS, RD/LD, CEDRD is an award-winning Registered Dietitian, writer, speaker, blogger, and REBEL Dietitian business owner. Rebecca and her team of six Registered Dietitians have counseled thousands of clients struggling with diabetes for over twenty-five years. They work closely with each other along with internists, endocrinologists, therapists, and families.

Maureen Sullivan – RN, CDE has worked for many years as a Registered Nurse, most of them in emergency and trauma services. She is a Certified Emergency Nurse, Certified Diabetes Educator, and the former manager of a hospital stroke program. Maureen’s wealth of knowledge, passion for nursing and education, and ability to engage people makes her an excellent teacher and a captivating lecturer. Recently, Maureen has been concentrating on writing, speaking and teaching, as well as working on her award-winning weekly podcast, “The Health and Humor Show.”

Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN is a nutrition communications specialist, registered dietitian in private practice, social media consultant, speaker, spokesperson and corporate consultant. She is currently the owner of Nutrition Starring YOU, LLC and www.NutritionStarringYOU.com. Lauren strongly believes that we should “Think Healthy, not Skinny”, and “EveryBODY is unique, your diet should be too”. Lauren was co-host of the Family Food Experts Kitchen radio show, available for listening on iHeart Radio and iTunes. Also known as one of the “NutritionBabes”, Lauren co-founded NutritionBabes.com, a popular Health and Wellness website in 2009. NutritionBabes.com was voted one of Healthline’s Top 100 Health Blogs in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Mark Heyman, PhD, CDE is a clinical health psychologist and the director of the Center for Diabetes and Mental Health (CDMH). In addition to treating patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, Dr. Heyman provides training for health care providers on how to identify and address the emotional and behavioral aspects of diabetes in their patients. He also works with pharmaceutical and medical device companies to help them understand these issues and incorporate this information into their sales, marketing, and patient education materials. He is particularly interested in empirically supported behavioral interventions that promote behavior change and improve physical and mental health in people with diabetes.

Katie Ferraro, MPH, RD, CDE is a nationally-recognized registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and author with an expertise in nutrition communications and curriculum development. She is the co-author of “Diet Therapy in Advanced Practice Nursing” (McGraw Hill, 2014) and an Assistant Clinical Professor of Nutrition at the University of California San Francisco and University of San Diego’s graduate schools of nursing.

Dr. Beverly S. Adler, PhD, CDE (aka “Dr. Bev”) is a clinical psychologist and certified diabetes educator, author and speaker. She specializes treating the emotional issues of people with diabetes. In her private practice, she provides individual, family and/or group therapy utilizing a cognitive behavior therapy orientation, combined with a spiritual approach. Her goal is to empower her patients to manage their diabetes.

Dr. Bev is the author of two self-help diabetes books. She has written numerous articles which are published in print and online – always focused on diabetes from the emotional perspective. She also speaks to audiences of people living with diabetes, as well as, to audiences of healthcare professionals and diabetes educators. Dr. Bev, herself, has been living successfully with type 1 diabetes for 40+ years.

In August 2016, Dr. Bev was honored to receive the “CDE Entrepreneur of the Year” Award from her Metropolitan NY Association of Diabetes Educators.

Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, FAND is an internationally recognized nutrition and diabetes expert with more than two decades experience. Through writing, speaking and one-on-one coaching, Jill empowers people to grab control of their health. She has worked as both a nutrition counselor and a diabetes educator in the hospital and research settings, and now in private practice in Newport News, VA. Jill is known for her practical approach and caring attitude. Her no-nonsense strategies to eating well include foods that both taste good and are good for you.

Marlene Koch (pronounced ‘cook’) is a nationally recognized nutritionist, popular TV personality and New York Times bestselling author. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from UCLA with a Bachelor’s degree in Nutritional Science. She is a registered dietitian and one of a select group of dietitians to hold an advanced certificate in Child and Adolescent Weight Management from the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.

Marlene has taught professional chefs from the American Culinary Federation the principles of healthy cooking and eating. She has been adjunct Nutrition professor and cooking instructor for Columbus State College and the Columbus State Culinary Academy, and she is a nationally recognized expert in weight loss, diabetes, child and adolescent nutrition, and sugar substitutes.

Marlene has sold over one million cookbooks, and is a regular guest on QVC.

Barbara Ruhs – MS, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and owner of Neighborhood Nutrition LLC, a consulting firm focused on providing solutions to help food companies and supermarkets improve consumer health & wellness. She’s a former supermarket dietitian and has run a successful business for 17 years. A leader in the field of nutrition, her mission is to help people by impacting the way food is produced, marketed and sold. She’s a strong advocate for supermarket dietitians and believes the retail food industry has the greatest potential to impact public health.

Cheryl Orlansky has over 25 years of experience in health promotion and chronic disease prevention and management. Her first career as a registered dental hygienist led her towards a path of wellness and nutrition! Her expertise is in diabetes, weight management and cardiovascular disease for individuals and groups. She works in a large private practice including endocrinology, internal medicine, rheumatology, neurology and sleep medicine. She is an award winning dietitian with current leadership positions in state and local dietetics organizations.

She has been interviewed and quoted in media outlets for WebMD, Atlanta Sports and Fitness, Georgia Public Broadcasting, and the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. She has partnered with V-103 Radio to lead supermarket tours as part of a community outreach during National Nutrition Month.

Cheryl helps her clients reach balance through lifestyle choices: cooking and eating, activity and purpose in life.

Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist and classically-trained chef. With a passion for helping people (including her father) with diabetes, she’s author of The With or Without Meat Cookbook: The Flexible Approach to Flavorful Diabetes Cooking and the award-winning The All‐Natural Diabetes Cookbook, both published by the American Diabetes Association. Jackie is also author of 1,000 Low-Calorie Recipes and Big Green Cookbook. Her next book, The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook—2nd Edition, was published in 2015.

Nutritionist Rania Batayneh, MPH is the author of the best-selling book, The One One One Diet. She holds a master’s degree in public health nutrition from the University of Michigan School of Public Health and is also a Wellcoaches Certified Health and Wellness Coach endorsed by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

OmnichannelHealth Media, publisher of DiabetesDigest.com, does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. See additional information.