DIABETES: What You Should Know
If you aren’t living with diabetes, there’s a good chance that at least one of the friends or loved ones who you’ll see this upcoming holiday season is affected by the disease. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 30 million people in the U.S. – or one in 10 – have diabetes. And one in four of those are unaware that they have it. With November recognized as American Diabetes Month, it’s a great time to learn more about this condition and how you can help prevent and fight it.
What is it?
Diabetes is a chronic condition that causes blood sugar levels to rise abnormally high. Our bodies break down the food we eat into glucose – or sugar – so it can be used for energy. A hormone called insulin helps get that glucose into our cells for energy. When our bodies’ ability to make or use insulin is compromised, too much blood sugar remains in the bloodstream. This can lead to serious complications, including heart and kidney disease, vision loss, hearing loss, nerve damage and stroke.
“Diabetes can seriously impact your health and quality of life, so it’s critical that we understand this condition and get proper and timely treatment for it,” says Barry Hawthorne, Chief Nursing Officer at North Alabama Medical Center.
The three types
There are three main types of diabetes:
- Gestational diabetes only occurs in females and results from pregnancy affecting the body’s ability to produce enough insulin. It typically goes away after giving birth, but it can increase you and your child’s risk for type 2 diabetes later in life.
- Type 1 results when your body stops making insulin altogether. Symptoms develop quickly, and those with this type take insulin every day. Risk factors for Type 1 include family history and age, as the condition is primarily found in children, teens and young adults. There is currently no known way to prevent this type.
- Type 2 occurs when your body has difficulty maintaining normal blood sugar levels due to an inability to use insulin properly. Ninety percent of diabetes sufferers have Type 2. Risk factors include: prediabetes, being overweight, being 45 and older, having an immediate family history of Type 2, a lack of regular physical activity, having gestational diabetes in your medical history or having given birth to a baby weighing more than nine pounds, and being African-American, Hispanic/Latino American, American Indian or Alaska Native (some Pacific Islanders and Asian-Americans are also at higher risk).
Symptoms of diabetes include:
- Frequent urination, often at night
- Being very thirsty and/or hungry
- Losing weight without trying
- Blurry vision
- Numb or tingling hands or feet
- Very dry skin
- Sores that are slow to heal
- More infections than usual
- Nausea, vomiting and stomach pains (type 1)
When symptoms appear depends on the type of diabetes in question. Because of their tricky nature, it’s important to discuss your risk factors with a healthcare provider and ask if getting tested is right for you.
“A simple blood sugar test can determine whether or not you have diabetes,” says Hawthorne. “If you do, your provider can work with you to create a treatment plan and suggest positive lifestyle changes to help protect your long-term health.”
While not a specific type of diabetes, prediabetes occurs when blood sugar levels are too high, but not high enough to classify as type 2. According to the CDC, more than one in three American adults have prediabetes, and 90 percent don’t know they have it. A blood sugar test can determine whether you have prediabetes. Changing your lifestyle to incorporate regular physical activity, healthy eating and weight loss (if you are overweight) can help prevent prediabetes from turning into Type 2.
To learn more about diabetes, visit www.cdc.gov/diabetes and www.diabetes.org.