Men’s health: Diabetes brings gender-specific complications

Barbie Haas

Barbie Haas

If you are a man with diabetes, did you know that you are at risk for additional complications because of your gender? Although there are many complications that occur in both males and females alike, there are some that have an increased risk associated with men, like sleep apnea, or are specific only to men, like low testosterone levels and erectile dysfunction (ED).

Sleep apnea, a condition where your airway may become blocked during sleep, increases your risk further for heart attack and stroke. If you are male, diabetic, overweight and/or a smoker, your risk for developing sleep apnea increases. Symptoms include fatigue throughout the day, loud snoring and/or pauses in your breathing during sleep.

Low testosterone levels and ED, although closely related, are two separate conditions. Low testosterone has a wider range of symptoms and can include ED, but often is also characterized by a decreased interest in sex, depressed mood, fatigue and decreased muscle mass. ED occurs when you are unable to obtain or maintain an erection long enough to have sex. This can occur from low testosterone levels, but also from blood vessel or nerve damage resulting from diabetes.

According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), a low testosterone level is twice as common in men with type 2 diabetes than it is in non-diabetic men and more than half of all diabetic men over the age of 50 report problems with ED. The ADA also reports that ED develops, on average, 10-15 years earlier in diabetic men than in non-diabetic men. If you think you are at risk for any of these conditions, notify your physician.

There are several treatment options that are available for each of these conditions. If you have a low testosterone level, medication is available in various forms (gels, patches, injections, etc.) to increase these levels. For ED, the treatment options include oral medication, injections, pellet therapy, pumps or prostheses. Options for the treatment of sleep apnea include CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) or adjustable airway pressure devices. These devices deliver air pressure through a mask worn while sleeping to help keep the airway open. Oral appliances are another option designed to keep the airway open during sleep, and there also are various surgical procedures available for treating sleep apnea.

Whether or not you are being treated with any of the therapies that are mentioned above, there are a few lifestyle changes that you can make to help in the treatment of these conditions. Losing weight, increasing activity, quitting smoking and keeping your blood sugar well-controlled will help to decrease your risk of not just these conditions, but all of the complications that are associated with diabetes. If you need assistance in making these lifestyle changes, talk to your physician or a local diabetes educator.

The Blount Memorial Weight Management Center offers regular monthly diabetes education classes, support groups and certified diabetes educators who can assist with techniques to help manage the condition. Learn more by calling 865-977-5767.

Barbie Haas is a registered nurse at the Blount Memorial Weight Management Center who works primarily with diabetes patients.

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