Diabetes 101 - What You Should Know
November 1, 2018
Diabetes is one of the biggest health issues facing Americans today. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 30 million people in the U.S. have diabetes. That’s one in 10 Americans. And one in four of those who have it don’t know they have it. These are troubling statistics, particularly because diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S.
But just what is diabetes? Who is at risk? And how can it be prevented? Here’s a quick primer.
Diabetes is a chronic condition that develops when your body’s ability to make or use insulin – a hormone which is critical to allowing blood sugar into your cells for energy – is compromised.
“It’s important to understand this condition and get proper treatment for it right away because when your body’s insulin process is compromised, too much blood sugar remains in your bloodstream,” says Dan Shelford, Assistant Chief Nursing Officer. “When this happens, it can lead to heart and kidney disease, as well as vision loss – all of which can seriously impact your overall health and quality of life.”
The three types
There are three main types of diabetes:
Type 1 diabetes results when your body stops making insulin altogether. Symptoms tend to develop quickly, and those with type 1 diabetes take insulin every day to make up for the body’s inability to do so. Risk factors of 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 type 1.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body has difficulty maintaining normal blood sugar levels due to an inability to use its insulin properly. Nine out of 10 people with diabetes have type 2. Risk factors include:
- Having pre-diabetes
- Being overweight
- Being 45 and older
- Having an immediate family member with type 2 diabetes
- Being physically active less than three times a week
- Having gestational diabetes in your medical history or having given birth to a baby weighing more than nine pounds
- Being African-American, Hispanic/Latino American, American Indian or Alaska Native (some Pacific Islanders and Asian-Americans are also at higher risk)
The good news is that type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed. Committing to positive lifestyle changes like eating healthy foods, engaging in regular physical activity and losing weight if you are overweight can help you stay on the road to good health.
Gestational diabetes (occurs only in females) results when the changes your body goes through during pregnancy affect its ability to make enough insulin. While gestational diabetes typically goes away after your baby is born, it can increase your and your child’s risk for type 2 diabetes later on in life. Risk factors include:
- Previous history of gestational diabetes
- Having previously given birth to a baby weighing 9 or more pounds
- Being overweight
- Being more than 25 years old
- Having a family history of type 2 diabetes
- Having a hormone disorder called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Being African-American, Hispanic/Latino American, American Indian, Alaskan Native, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
Developing healthy habits like eating a nutritious, balanced diet and getting regular exercise, as well as losing weight if you are overweight, may help you prevent gestational diabetes.
Symptoms and getting tested
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 or stomach pains (type 1)
When symptoms appear depends on the type of diabetes in question. Type 1 symptoms can develop fairly quickly and be severe, while type 2 symptoms tend to develop over time (sometimes, you may not notice any symptoms at all). Gestational diabetes typically occurs in the middle of the pregnancy period without noticeable symptoms.
“Because of the tricky nature of diabetes symptoms, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider about your risk factors and ask if getting tested is right for you,” Dan says. “A simple blood sugar test can determine whether or not you have diabetes. 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 and wellness.”