Purpose of the Review
To review the latest evidence on sex differences in the burden and complications of diabetes and discuss the potential explanations for the sex differences described.
Diabetes is a strong risk factor for vascular disease, with compelling evidence that the relative risks of vascular diseases conferred by diabetes are considerably greater in women than men. The mechanisms underpinning women’s excess relative risk of vascular disease from diabetes are unknown. Sex differences in the health care provided for the prevention, management, and treatment of diabetes and its complications could contribute to women’s greater excess relative risks of diabetes complications. However, since the excess risk of vascular disease is not seen for other major vascular risk factors, inherent biological factors may be more likely to be involved. In addition to other cardiometabolic pathways, the sex dimorphism in body composition and fat distribution may be particularly important in explaining women’s greater excess risk of the vascular complications of diabetes.
There is strong evidence to suggest that diabetes is a stronger risk factor for vascular disease in women than men. Although several mechanisms may be involved, further research is needed to provide new and deeper insights into the mechanisms underpinning sex differences in the association between diabetes and vascular diseases. Such research will inform patients, health care professionals, and policy makers to ensure that women are not disproportionately affected by diabetes, and will help to reduce the burden in both sexes.