Diabetes 101: What You Should Know

November 10, 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 Michael Mendoza, MS, RDN at Memorial Medical Center. “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
  • Fatigue
  • 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,” Mendoza 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.”

For more information on diabetes, visit www.cdc.gov/diabetes and www.diabetes.org. If you don't have a primary care provider and would like to talk to one about diabetes risks and testing, Memorial Medical Center can help. Visit our nutritional services page at www.mmclc.org/services/nutrition-counseling to get connected.

Prediabetes

More than one in three American adults have prediabetes. Prediabetes occurs when your blood sugar levels are too high, but not high enough to classify as type 2 diabetes. In addition to type 2 diabetes, those with pre-diabetes are also at higher risk for heart disease and stroke. Approximately 90 percent of those with prediabetes are not aware that they have it. A blood sugar test performed by your provider can determine whether you have pre-diabetes. Talk with your provider about your risk factors, getting tested and how healthy lifestyle changes can help.