Diabetes is a life-long condition in which the body does not produce or absorb insulin correctly. While anyone can develop the condition, it produces several symptoms unique to men.
The condition can lead to erectile dysfunction, genital thrush, and loss of muscle mass. This article explores the differences between diabetes symptoms in men and women.
Many effects of diabetes are similar across the sexes. The condition causes damage to blood vessels and nerves.
However, the main differences when diabetes occurs in men are the following:
Erectile dysfunction: Up to 75 percent of men who have diabetes experience difficulties achieving or maintaining an erection. Nerves and blood vessels are vital to the process of an erection, and damage to these systems can impact the workings of the penis.
Genital thrush: Men can experience repeated cases of genital thrush, a fungal yeast infection. Excess sugar in the blood gets passed in the urine. However, yeast thrives on sugar and is more likely to grow on the penis of a man with diabetes.
Symptoms of genital thrush include:
- redness, swelling, and itching around the head of the penis
- an unpleasant odor
- a white, lumpy appearance to the skin of the penis
- soreness and discomfort during sex
Reduced muscle mass: Consistently raised blood sugar levels might lead to the body breaking down muscle and fat for energy.
This is more common in men with type 1 diabetes and results in reduced strength and muscle weakness.
A 2016 study in BMJ Open found that men are at a high risk of diabetes after less relative weight gain than women are.
The research analyzed 480,813 participants. The authors found that the men varied less in their body sizes than the women at the time of their diabetes diagnosis.
The 2016 study also measured waist circumference, which has become the preferred indicator of health risks.
The results showed:
- The circumference of the waist was 9cm larger in men with type 2 diabetes than in men who did not have the condition. The BMI was also 3 points higher.
- The women would receive a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes after an average waist increase of 14 cm, or a BMI increase of 5.
One way of interpreting the research is to say that men may get diabetes “more easily” than women and at a more predictable stage of fat gain
The results of a 2011 study published in the journal Diabetologia are similar. The men with diabetes in this sample were less obese at the time of diagnosis than women.
The lower fat threshold in men was most noticeable at younger ages. Older men and women with a diabetes diagnosis had more similar body sizes.
A BMI of 30 or more indicates obesity. The 2011 study found that around the time of their diagnosis with type 2 diabetes, men had an average BMI of just under 32. Women had an average approaching 34.
This means that women typically have a higher BMI level than men when they develop diabetes.
A woman could carry a waist circumference five times that of a man before developing diabetes.
Alongside male-only symptoms of diabetes, the general symptoms of diabetes can occur in men and women of all ages.
- increased thirst and hunger
- passing more urine, and going more often
- increased urination at night
- increased hunger
- blurry vision
- in type 2 diabetes, sores or cuts that do not heal
- in type 1 diabetes, excessive weight loss before diagnosis
Seek a consultation with a doctor if these symptoms occur.
Over time, complications can develop as a result of long-term high blood sugar levels.
These can cause damage to a range of systems, including:
- eye issues, such as diabetic retinopathy
- foot problems
- stroke and heart attack
- nephropathy, or kidney issues
- neuropathy, or damage to the nerves
- certain cancers
- diabetic ketoacidosis, a buildup of compounds called ketones that can be fatal unless a person receives rapid treatment
Treatment for a complication of diabetes is often the first time a person discovers the condition, and they can be extremely dangerous.
Men at risk of diabetes should have regular check-ups to catch and treat the condition as early as possible.
Men face the risk of diabetes from a lower level of weight gain and fat build-up than women. They can experience a range of unique effects of the condition, such as erectile dysfunction and recurrent genital thrush.
Diabetes can lead to a range of dangerous complications. All men over the age of 45 years who are overweight should receive a blood test.
I am a man with prediabetes. What should I remove from my diet to reduce the risk of full diabetes?
Eat a diet high in vegetables, such as green leafy vegetables, fruits, whole grains and nuts. Eat more foods that are high in fiber. Avoid foods high in sugar such as sodas, chips, cookies, cake, and pie. Avoid processed foods and fast foods.
Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.