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Periods and Type 1 diabetes

From cramps to mood swings, periods are tough, no matter how old you are. And it can be even worse when you’re young. You’ve got all sorts of other hormonal and life changes happening at the same time.  

The good news is Type 1 diabetes shouldn’t affect your daughter’s periods, for example, how regular or heavy they are. But menstruation can cause some changes to blood sugar levels that you both need to watch out for.  

How do periods affect blood sugar levels?

Around the time of your period, you produce lots of hormones. These can make your blood sugar levels change, and these changes are different for each girl.

Most girls with Type 1 diabetes find their sugar levels go up three to five days before their period starts. They then go back to normal a few days into their period. Doctors think this is because of the amount of the hormone progesterone in your body, which can cause insulin resistance. But some girls find the opposite happens. Their sugar levels fall a few days before their period when the hormone oestrogen rises and then goes back to normal a few days in. 

Other girls find their period has no effect on their blood sugar at all. 

Some girls see the same effect on their blood sugar each month. For others, it might change every month but both are normal.

It’s very different from person to person, so how you handle it will be different too.  

Managing blood sugar levels around periods

The first step to managing blood sugar levels around your daughter’s period is keeping a careful eye on what they’re doing. 

You and your daughter should check her sugar levels more than usual before, during and just after her periods. That way you’ll know what to do with your daughter's insulin dose. Your diabetes nurse will be able to help with this.

Keeping a note of your daughter’s levels month after month will also let you see if they fall into a pattern, making them easier to manage. Our logbooks are really useful for keeping track of levels over time.

If your daughter’s menstrual cycle is irregular, keeping track might be trickier. Having irregular periods is common and very common when girls have just started their periods.

But it’s still possible to see if there is a pattern with her blood sugar levels. Try writing down the dates of her periods, alongside blood sugar levels every day. You’ll be able to see what’s happening over a few months. 

Your daughter’s levels should go back to normal each month after her period. If this doesn’t happen, or her blood sugar levels continue to change, speak to your diabetes team. 

Other aspects of puberty could be causing levels to change too.

What’s best to eat when you have your period? 

Hormone changes can also make you feel hungrier, especially for carbohydrates, in the run-up to and during your period. This can be the case for anyone, including girls with Type 1 diabetes. 

Your daughter may well crave carbs like sugary food and white bread. This may be because her serotonin levels (the ‘happiness hormone’) are low during her period, and eating food like this boosts them. But encourage her to stick to healthier carbs like whole grain bread, as best she can. 

Getting plenty of exercise just before and during her period can help lower blood sugar and help your daughter feel better emotionally too.

Does diabetes affect any other period symptoms?

Periods can have lots of side effects from premenstrual syndrome or mood swings, through to bloating, cramps and headaches. Girls with Type 1 diabetes can have all of these too but there’s no evidence linking any of them with diabetes.

Can diabetes make girls start their periods late?

As long as your daughter’s diabetes is being managed, it shouldn’t delay or speed up when she gets her first period. The average age to get your first period is 12, but it can happen any time during puberty. 

Being underweight can delay periods starting, or stop them once they have started, but as long as your daughter’s weight and sugar levels are being managed, this shouldn’t happen.

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