Symptoms of High Blood Sugar in Women

Known as hyperglycemia

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High blood sugar—known as hyperglycemia—occurs when there is too much sugar (glucose) in the blood. This happens when your body has too little insulin (the hormone that transports glucose into the blood), or if your body can't use insulin properly. The condition is most often linked with diabetes.

If you’re a woman with hyperglycemia, you may experience many of the same symptoms as a man. However, some symptoms are unique to women. Understanding more about these symptoms will help you identify hyperglycemia and get treatment early.

woman checking blood sugar at home

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Prevalence of Diabetes

Around 15 million women in the United States have diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 20% of people with diabetes don't know they have it. This is because many people with type 2 diabetes (which makes up 90% to 95% of all diagnosed cases) have no symptoms.

Frequent Symptoms

Experiencing common hyperglycemia symptoms may be a diabetes warning sign for those who have not yet been diagnosed. If you know you have diabetes, these symptoms may be an indication that a change in your treatment plan is needed:

If you’re a woman with hyperglycemia, you may also experience one or more of the following symptoms. 

Yeast and Urinary Tract Infections

Having blood sugar that is too high can cause your urine to have glucose in it. High glucose concentration in urine can provide a rich source of nutrients for bacteria. Therefore, bacteria can multiply and may lead to infections, such as urinary tract infections (UTIs) or yeast infections.

A recent American study performed on a health service database with more than 70,000 patients with type 2 diabetes found that 12.9% of women were diagnosed with UTI during one year, compared with 3.9% of men. If you are a woman and find yourself with recurrent UTIs or yeast infections, ask your healthcare provider if diabetes might be to blame.

Sexual Dysfunction

Having high sugar levels for a period of time can damage your blood vessels and nerves, including the ones that supply your sexual organs. This can restrict the amount of blood flowing to your sexual organs, so you can lose some sensation, which could mean difficulty getting aroused.

A 2019 meta-analysis review of 25 studies and 3,892 individuals aged 18 to 70 years showed that the overall prevalence of sexual dysfunction in women with type 2 diabetes was 68.6%.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Women with PCOS are often insulin resistant; their bodies can make insulin but can’t use it effectively, which can result in elevated blood sugar levels. They also have higher levels of androgens (male hormones that females also have), which can stop eggs from being released and cause:

  • Irregular periods
  • Acne
  • Thinning scalp hair
  • Excess hair growth on the face and body

Women with PCOS can have serious health complications, with more than half of women with PCOS developing type 2 diabetes by age 40.

Rare Symptoms

Some more rare and dangerous symptoms can occur in people with hyperglycemia, too.

Diabetic Ketoacidosis

Hyperglycemia can lead to a very dangerous condition known as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which occurs most commonly in people who have type 1 diabetes and is often the condition that leads to the diagnosis of type 1 diabetes.

Symptoms of DKA include:

  • Weight loss often accompanied by excessive hunger
  • Feeling very fatigued
  • Feeling confused or distracted
  • Dry or flushed skin
  • Nausea, vomiting, or abdominal pain (If vomiting occurs with other symptoms or lasts for an extended period of time, contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible).
  • Rapid, shallow breathing or sigh breathing that occurs when the body is trying to get rid of ketones
  • Fruity odor on breath due to exhaled acetone

DKA is caused when the body has little or no insulin to use and, as a result, blood sugars rise to dangerous levels and the blood becomes acidic. Cell damage can occur and if it continues to progress, it can cause coma or death.

Hyperglycemic Hyperosmolar Nonketotic Syndrome (HHNS)

Hyperglycemic hyperosmolar nonketotic syndrome (HHNS) is a potentially fatal condition that can develop as a result of infection or illness in people with uncontrolled type 2 diabetes or when diabetes medications aren't taken as directed. Some also refer to this as a "diabetic coma."

HHNS develops when glucose levels surge (typically above 600 mg/dl), leading to severe dehydration. This dehydration occurs because elevated levels of glucose cause blood to become thicker and result in the body needing to produce more urine in order to lower them.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • extreme thirst
  • confusion
  • fever (usually over 101 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • weakness or paralysis on one side of the body

Prevalence of HHNS

HHNS is a relatively rare complication of diabetes, accounting for just 1% of hospital admissions among people with diabetes.

Complications of Hyperglycemia

Frequent and long-standing hyperglycemia can lead to a host of complications. They include damage to the:

Additionally, chronically-elevated blood sugars can cause or exacerbate heart disease and peripheral arterial disease.

Elevated Blood Sugar Levels and Cardiovascular Disease

Evidence suggests that type 2 diabetes confers a stronger excess risk of cardiovascular diseases in women than in men; with women having a 27% higher relative risk of stroke and a 44% higher relative risk of coronary heart disease compared with men.

Women are also at higher risk of other diabetes-related complications such as blindness and kidney disease.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes is specific to pregnant women and different from type 1 and type 2 diabetes. About 6% to 9% of pregnant women in the United States develop gestational diabetes. In fact, between 2000 and 2010, the occurrence of gestational diabetes in America increased by 56%.

The hormones of pregnancy interfere with the way insulin works. This causes the body to make more of it. But for some women, this still isn’t enough insulin, and they develop gestational diabetes.

Gestational diabetes often develops later in pregnancy. In most women, gestational diabetes goes away after pregnancy. If you’ve had gestational diabetes, your risk for type 2 diabetes increases. Your healthcare provider may recommend diabetes and prediabetes testing every few years.

Glucose Changes During the Menstrual Cycle

Hormonal changes in your menstrual cycle can make blood sugar levels more difficult to control.

Roughly halfway through your menstrual cycle, ovulation occurs. At that point in your cycle, your progesterone levels increase. Studies have shown that progesterone is associated with increased insulin resistance.

That means that during the second half of your cycle after ovulation (the luteal phase) when your progesterone levels are naturally higher you will have some relative insulin resistance and may have a tendency towards hyperglycemia.

Women with type 1 diabetes may be more sensitive to this menstrual cycle-related insulin resistance.

Research shows the risk for hyperglycemia changes significantly during the cycle for women with type 1 diabetes, with high blood glucose indices increasing until the early luteal phase and returning to initial levels thereafter.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you don't have diabetes and notice any of these signs or symptoms, and are overweight, or have a family history of diabetes, you should schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider to be screened. Complications of diabetes can occur prior to diagnosis, so the sooner you receive treatment, the better.

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16 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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