India is nowadays considered the “Diabetic Capital” of the world. The rate at which diabetes is increasing in modern societies is, indeed, a matter of concern. Diabetes does not merely mean increased and sometimes uncontrolled blood sugar. It affects various organs and systems of our body , particularly affecting heart (coronary artery disease), brain (stroke), eye (retinopathy), kidney (nephropathy), blood pressure (hypertension), liver (fatty liver), nerves (neuropathy), increased risk of infection and even some cancers. Obesity and diabetes go hand-in-hand. So, the main control measures are life style changes (controlling weight, diet, exercise, avoidance of alcohol and smoking); drugs (oral drugs and insulin) and monitoring by physician.
- Sexual Dysfunction: Diabetes is a major cause of sexual dysfunction in both male and female. It can reduce the libido (sexual desire) by altering the sex hormone levels. In case of male, Erectile Dysfunction (ED) is sometimes the first symptom of diabetes. So, if a male suffers from ED, rather than taking drugs directly from medicine shops, the cause of ED must be evaluated, particularly diabetes. Often patients do not know that they are diabetic but when the cause of ED is investigated, diabetes is discovered incidentally. It can also affect the nerves and thus can worsen the sexual problems. In female, it can lead to decreased arousal leading to avoidance of sexual activity. In some cases, it is responsible for premature ejaculation (PE) in males. Thus any person with sexual problems, should be evaluated for diabetes. Control of diabetes often resolves the problem.
- Menstrual problems: Obesity and diabetes together can affect hormone balance leading to irregular menstruations ranging from periods occurring at every 2-3 months, sometimes too frequently (every 10-15 days), scanty flow and sometimes heavy flow. This is particularly true in case of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) which can affect various organs and systems of the body. In PCOS, insulin is there in the body but it cannot function properly and ultimately it leads to diabetes. In some cases, this high blood sugar may be responsible for appearance of excessive hair growth (male-like hairs) in females. Even in some cases, diabetes may be associated with increased thickening of the endometrium (the inner lining of the uterus). In the worst cases, these women may have cancers in endometrium. So, women with menstrual problem need proper evaluation. Reduction in weight and control of blood sugar help to control menstrual problems.
- Infertility: As mentioned above, PCOS is a common cause of infertility. Similarly, diabetes and obesity can lead to problems in ovulation and thus creates problems in having pregnancy. Control of weight and blood sugar lead to successful conception in most cases. Similarly in male, high blood sugar can affect sperm production and thus impairs male fertility. Sexual dysfunction can aggravate the problem. Infection also plays a important role.
- Infection: Diabetes is notorious for increasing susceptibility to infection and often interferes with eradication of infection. In female, the infections may lead to vaginal white discharge and even in severe cases can block the fallopian tubes leading to infertility permanently. In male, it can cause phimosis (tight foreskin) and sometimes infection of sperm conducting-passage leading to infertility. So, male and female with genital infection must be evaluated for diabetes. Proper control of blood sugar and antibiotics are needed to control these.
- Pregnancy problems: Women diagnosed with diabetes are encouraged to control blood sugar before pregnancy. Otherwise there will be problems for mother as well the baby. Diabetes can cause miscarriage, preterm labour and worsens maternal problems like hypertension, nephropathy and retinopathy in pregnancy. It can lead to sudden unexplained death of the baby inside the uterus. The baby can have excessive weight (that leads to its diabetes in later life) and other problems like low blood sugar at birth, problems in breathing, problems in brain and problems in heart etc. So, proper control of blood sugar is needed before pregnancy and should be continued throughout pregnancy.
- GDM: Some women may have normal blood sugar before pregnancy but may develop diabetes in pregnancy. This is called gestational diabetes (GDM). It is also associated with increased risk of complications to mother and baby. 50% women with GDM can develop diabetes in later life. So, women with repeated miscarriage, still birth and very large baby should be evaluated for diabetes. Treatment must be continued throughout pregnancy.
To summarize, diabetes is not only responsible for diseases of heart and brain but it can affect your reproductive life, particularly sexual function, conception and pregnancy. So, if you suffer from these problems, do not hesitate to check blood sugar. If diabetes is detected, there is no need to worry as proper control will solve all these problems.