If you are like most women in the United States today, you are likely the main person responsible for your family’s health. You urge your husband to get his annual physical. You deal with the pediatrician, the dentist and even the pet’s vet. Perhaps you even care for your aging parents. Do all these priorities push taking care of your own health to the bottom of the list? For most women, the answer is YES!
If you have diabetes, you can’t afford to let that happen. Women in the United States have become concerned with many women’s health issues, most notably breast cancer. What’s ironic—and alarming—is that every year, more women die of heart disease than of breast cancer. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), heart disease is the leading cause of death in American women. About 375,000 women die each year of heart disease, and about 40,000 die of breast cancer. Yet, in a survey done by the National Council on the Aging, 61 percent of women thought that breast cancer was the leading cause of death. Only nine percent thought that it was heart disease.
WOMEN, DIABETES AND HEART DISEASE
About 9.1 million women in the United States have diabetes. Those who are African-American, Latino, Native-American and Asian/Pacific Islander are more likely to get diabetes than Caucasian women. Because we are living longer and there are more minorities in the United States, the number of women at high risk for diabetes and heart disease is going up. We often hear about men who have heart disease, but women with diabetes have a higher risk of heart disease and stroke than anyone else. “In fact, women with diabetes have two to four times greater risk for heart disease than women without diabetes,” says Martin Abrahamson, M.D., chief of adult diabetes at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. “There is an even higher rate in certain ethnic groups, such as African-Americans and Latinos. These ethnic groups, particularly African-Americans, are at greater risk for developing complications of diabetes,” she adds. (Complications include diabetes related problems of the heart, kidneys, eyes, feet, skin, nerves, teeth and gums.)
“Before menopause, women with diabetes are at a lower risk for heart disease than men. But at menopause, all women lose the protective effect of their gender and of their pre-menopause state,” says Abrahamson. “After menopause, women have the same risk of developing heart disease as men. As women age, their risk is actually higher than that of men. In women who have diabetes, the risk of getting heart disease is twice that of men without diabetes and five times that of women without diabetes. If you really want to keep on helping others, take time to help yourself now, so that you will be able to help others for a long, long time.”
According to the American Diabetes Association, deaths from heart and blood vessel disease among women with diabetes have increased over the past three decades in both women with and without diabetes. On the other hand, deaths from heart disease among men have gone down.
MAKING TIME TO TAKE CARE
So, what can you do to take care of yourself?
- Find a reason to find time. People don’t change without a reason. Think about the health problems that can come from diabetes if blood glucose levels are not kept in your target range. Most women want to be around to watch their children grow up, or to see their grandchildren and enjoy them. What’s your reason?
- Learn all you can about diabetes. Talk with your health care provider about setting up a meeting with a certified diabetes educator. You are the one who lives with diabetes every day, 24 hours a day. The more you know, the better your chances are of not having diabetes problems, and the better your chances are of living a longer, healthier life.
- Recognize that diabetes problems can happen to everyone with diabetes. Most people don’t think complications from diabetes will happen to them. They just see them happening to other people. Prevention is your best medicine.
- Realize that excuses are holding you back. We have so many excuses that keep us from doing things we really want to do. Make a list of excuses with a way to overcome each one. Examples of possible excuses and ways to deal with them are listed to the right.
- Treat yourself how you treat others. Ask yourself, “How would I treat a loved one?” If your child, husband, parent or another loved one had diabetes, what kind of advice would you give that person? Would you say that it’s OK not to take care of his or her health? Probably not.
That’s what women seem to do—take care of everyone else but themselves. If you really want to keep on helping others, take to help yourself now, so that you will be able to help others for a long, long time.
THE EXCUSES WE MAKE AND HOW TO OVERCOME THEM
I don’t have time.
I can’t find time in my schedule.
I don’t like checking my blood glucose.
The weather’s not good for exercising.
I’m too tired.
I don’t have the right foods in the house.
I do seem to find time for other important things.
I can make time by planning exercise and other things I need to do for diabetes in my calendar. I would for other appointments.
If I don’t know what my blood glucose is, then I won’t be able to manage my diabetes and prevent diabetes problems.
I can do something inside, like listen to music and dance while I’m cleaning the kitchen.
Exercise and blood glucose levels that are near my target will give me more energy.
I can make the best choices with what I have available now. I can make a list and go shopping on a regular basis so I don’t get caught in a situation like this again.