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World Diabetes Day: Women with diabetes have a higher risk of stroke

(Vienna, 13.11.2014) In Austria, someone dies of the consequences of diabetes every 50 minutes. That is around 10,000 Austrians each year. Most deaths are due to heart attacks or strokes – as a consequence of diabetes. Current studies show that women who have diabetes are twice as likely to suffer a stroke than women who do not. Their risk is also considerably higher than that of men with diabetes. This was emphasised by Alexandra Kautzky-Willer, diabetes expert at the University Clinic for Internal Medicine III and professor of gender medicine at MedUni Vienna, on the occasion of World Diabetes Day on Friday. 

Disrupted blood sugar regulation leads to a much higher risk of stroke in women. The reason: "Vascular function and blood clotting are particularly badly affected so that women have a greater risk of thromboses forming," says Kautzky-Willer. Female diabetics have an approximately 33% higher risk of stroke than male diabetics.

But it is not only the elevated blood sugar levels that damage blood vessels in the long-term: high blood pressure, inflammatory changes, elevated blood lipid levels and various lifestyle factors also play a role, as does depression. This is why a diabetes treatment that only lowers blood sugar levels cannot prevent subsequent cardiovascular complications. Kautzky-Willer: “So what is needed is a general lifestyle intervention and treatment of all risk factors."

Women eat more healthily, men take more exercise
But it seems that exercise is an important factor for women. "Although women eat more healthily than men, who often consume more fat and red meat, they do a lot less exercise." Apart from poor nutrition, high blood pressure, lack of exercise and smoking, other risk factors are being overweight and being stressed. For example, it was demonstrated that men and women who do shift work – particularly night shifts – have a higher risk of developing diabetes. 

Lifestyle changes at an early stage can also prevent gestational diabetes, which is an extra risk factor for subsequently developing type 2 diabetes and also cardiovascular diseases. Kautzky-Willer: "The initial results from our DALI project indicate that it makes sense to check expectant mothers who are overweight from the 24th week of pregnancy onwards because, even then, one in four already has a metabolic disorder that requires treatment." The Dali project is concerned with a lifestyle intervention, incorporating healthy nutrition, exercise and vitamin D, to prevent women developing gestational diabetes.

Diabetes: On the increase

Since 1998, the number of female diabetics in Central Europe has increased by around 40%. The Austrian Diabetes Association (Österreichische Diabetes-Gesellschaft or ÖDG) estimates that there are currently around 60,000 people suffering from diabetes mellitus (type 2 diabetes) in Austria. And, according to the ÖDG, this will have risen to 80,000 by the year 2013. According to the European Association for the Study of Diabetes’ Euro Diabetes Index (EDI), Austria is still lagging behind in terms of diabetes prevention, diagnosis and availability of treatments and only comes 13th out of the 28 EU countries plus Switzerland and Norway.