In the United States, an estimated 30.3 million American adults live with diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As one of the nation’s top chronic health conditions, diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death, affecting every 1 in 4 people over the age of 65.
While diabetes itself is manageable, its complications can severely impact daily living, and some complications can be fatal if not treated immediately. From finger pricks to daily insulin, the average person with diabetes sticks themselves with a needle 2,920 times per year.
For people with diabetes, preventative measures are a part of daily life–but the rest of the world is often unaware of what it takes to manage the condition, and why diabetes should be taken seriously. Although diabetes has no cure, it is important that people educate themselves about the disease, so they can equip themselves with the tools they need to live longer, healthier lives.
Here is some more information about diabetes, including how to lower risks and where to find help for managing the disease.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes, or scientifically known as diabetes mellitus, is a chronic health condition that impairs the body’s ability to produce or use insulin, a hormone that helps turn digested food into energy, otherwise called blood sugar or glucose. When a body is unable to produce or process insulin, as a result of cellular resistance, various cells in the body will not get the energy they need to function properly, causing further health problems like cardiovascular disease and damage to nerves, kidneys, and eyes. Those with diabetes are often advised to control sugar intake to keep their blood sugars at a normal level.
Potential Risk Factors
When considering potential health risks, it is important to remember that every case is different based on the type of diabetes: type 1, type 2, prediabetes, or gestational (pregnancy) diabetes. Each form of diabetes has unique symptoms, causes, and preventative steps/treatments. Learn more about how these types differ from one another:
Formerly known as juvenile, early-onset, or insulin-dependent diabetes, type 1 can occur in adults and happens when the body can no longer produce insulin on its own. Due to a lack of insulin, people with type 1 diabetes are required to take daily injections of insulin to keep blood sugars under control. Without insulin, blood sugar levels go up, triggering frequent urination and dehydration.
About 5% of those with diabetes have type 1 and this autoimmune disease is usually diagnosed in children, teens, and young adults. Although diabetes can affect people of all ages, backgrounds, races, and ethnicities, the exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown. However, research suggests that there are factors that may present an increased risk, including:
- Family History: Blood relatives with diabetes increase the risk for type 1 diabetes. Even without a hereditary factor, anyone can still be vulnerable to the disease, especially if obesity, inactivity, race and older age are present risk factors. Though diabetes may not ‘run’ in the family the disease can happen to anyone, at any time
- Environmental Factors: A viral illness through exposure can increase risk for type 1 diabetes
- Autoantibodies: Damaged immune system cells increase the risk for type 1 diabetes, especially if it runs in the family
- Geography:Ancestry from certain countries, such as Finland and Sweden, presents an increased risk for type 1 diabetes
Once called adult-onset diabetes, type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, accounting for 95% of cases. It is most commonly diagnosed in young adults and is linked to a higher body mass index (BMI) and obesity – an issue becoming more common among young people today.
Though it is not as severe as type 1 and can often be controlled with diet and exercise, this form of diabetes can be triggered when the body is unable to properly process or produce insulin on its own, keeping blood sugars at normal levels.
To compensate for insulin resistance, the pancreas has to produce more and more insulin, over time losing the ability to produce it altogether, leading to the need for daily insulin injections. Even though health professionals have not found a cause for this chronic disease, research suggests that type 2 diabetes can stem from a combination of genetics and lifestyle factors, including:
- Weight:Excess fatty tissue makes cells more resistant to insulin and can cause low-grade inflammation, increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes. The more fat a person stores on the body, the greater the degree of chronic inflammation
- Inactivity: A sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise can lower the use of glucose as energy and make cells less sensitive to insulin levels
- Family History:A parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, as certain genes can be linked to the disease
- Race: Although the cause is unknown, African-American, Hispanic, Native American, Alaska Native, Pacific Islander or Asian-American roots, increase the risk for type 2 diabetes
- Age:People 45 or older, have an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, perhaps due to inactivity, lost muscle mass, and weight gain – though it is becoming more commonly found among children, adolescents and younger adults
- Gestational Diabetes:Gestational diabetes during pregnancy or giving birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds, increases the chance of developing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes later in life
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome:Irregular menstrual periods, excess hair growth and obesity, increase the risk of type 2 diabetes
- High Blood Pressure:Blood pressure over 140/90 millimeters of mercury increases the risk of type 2 diabetes
- Depression:Depression in midlife or later increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Hormonal imbalance as well as high blood glucose in diabetes causes an imbalance in the neurotransmitters, ultimately causing depression
- Abnormal Cholesterol and Triglyceride Levels:High levels of triglycerides (fat carried in blood) or low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), otherwise known as ‘good’ cholesterol, increases the risk of type 2 diabetes
Often referred to as borderline diabetes, prediabetes can be a warning call to lower one’s blood glucose level. Like other forms of diabetes, this health condition happens when blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but they are not high enough yet to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. Here are a few risk factors for prediabetes:
- Age:People 45 or older have an increased risk of prediabetes, perhaps due to inactivity, lost muscle mass, and weight gain – though it is becoming more commonly found among children, adolescents and younger adults
- Race: Although the cause is unknown, having African-American, Hispanic, Native American, Alaska Native, Pacific Islander or Asian-American roots increases risk for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes
- Family History:A close family member, such as a parent or sibling, with type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy, delivery of a large baby or an unexplained stillbirth increases the risk of prediabetes
- Inactivity: A more sedentary lifestyle and a lack of exercise can lower the use of glucose as energy and make cells less sensitive to insulin levels
- High Blood Pressure:Blood pressure over 140/90 millimeters of mercury increases the risk of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes
- Gestational Diabetes:Gestational diabetes during pregnancy or giving birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pound makes a woman more prone to developing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes later in life
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome:Irregular menstrual periods, excess hair growth and obesity increases the risk of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes
- Abnormal Cholesterol and Triglyceride Levels:High levels of triglycerides (fat carried in blood) or low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), otherwise known as ‘good’ cholesterol increases the risk of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes
Gestational diabetes can occur as the result of hormonal changes during pregnancy. During gestation, the placenta can produce hormones that make a pregnant woman’s cells less sensitive to the effects of insulin, causing high blood sugar. The condition is often detected during a routine blood sugar test or oral glucose tolerance test that is usually performed between 24-28 weeks of pregnancy. Most of the time, this type of diabetes goes away after the baby is born.
A mother with gestational diabetes has a greater chance of developing type 2 diabetes later in life, and her baby could be at higher risk for health problems. Any pregnant woman can develop gestational diabetes, but some women are at greater risk. Here are a few risk factors for gestational diabetes:
- Age: Women 25 or older have an increased risk of gestational diabetes
- Family History:Women with prediabetes (a precursor to type 2 diabetes) or a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, with type 2 diabetes, a previous pregnancy with gestational diabetes, delivery of a large baby or an unexplained stillbirth all increases the risk of gestational diabetes
- Weight:Excessive weight gain during pregnancy or overweight before pregnancy
- Race: Although unclear as to why, having African-American, Hispanic, Native American, Alaska Native, Pacific Islander or Asian-American roots increases risk of gestational diabetes
Prevention and Treatment
While diabetes does not have a cure, it can be managed. With proper diabetes management, including medications and lifestyle modifications, a person can lead a normal and fulfilling life. Although diabetes is an extremely common condition, unfortunately, like many chronic illnesses, there is a lot of misinformation about diabetes.
Because many people are unaware of what it is, who is at risk, and other conditions that can result from the disease, managing diabetes can be challenging. From learning how to monitor blood sugar (glucose) levels to counting carb intake, diabetes is not just a condition. It is a lifestyle.
Studies have found that people with diabetes are most successful in monitoring their blood sugar, lowering their blood pressure, and developing a healthier lifestyle, when they attend diabetes support groups.
Support from others who share similar experiences, help people with diabetes better equip themselves on how to manage their condition, such as eating healthier, becoming more active, and educating themselves more about diabetes. Here are a few strategies on preventing, managing, or reversing diabetes:
- Stay Informed:Learn about diabetes and be aware of its risk factors, symptoms, and preventative strategies. Although some symptoms of diabetes are not always noticeable before being diagnosed, there are subtle signs to watch for, such as increased thirst, frequent urination, weight loss, and extreme fatigue. If these symptoms are present, talk to a health care provider and possibly get screened
- Limit Stress: When dealing with stress, try a variety of methods such as deep breathing, gardening, taking a walk, meditating, working on a hobby, or listening to music, as stress can raise blood sugar levels
- Avoid Tobacco Use: Eliminating tobacco use decreases the risk of making the condition worse
- Seek Help: Don’t be afraid to ask for help when feeling down. A mental health counselor, support group, clergy member, friend, or family member may help people with diabetes feel better and find more balance in their life. See a health care provider at least twice a year to detect and treat any problems early, discuss questions, report any health changes, and get routine care to stay healthy and reduce any serious or fatal complications
- Check Feet:A foot check for cuts, blisters, red spots, and swelling should be done every day. If something looks suspicious, a healthcare provider should be called right away about any sores that do not go away
- Brush and Floss:Brush and floss daily to keep mouth, teeth, and gums healthy. Prevent and treat any oral health issues, such as gum disease
- Stay Active: Engaging in at least 30 minutes of exercise each day, such as walking, aerobics, riding a bike, or swimming are great ways to get moving in the right direction, especially when paired with a proper diet. When shifting routines, finding enjoyable activities can ensure regular participation
- Eat a Healthy, Balanced Diet:A healthy diet when managing diabetes, puts the right fuel in the body. Along with smaller portion sizes, eating a diet that is high in fresh, nutritious foods including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, low-fat dairy, and healthy fat sources, such as nuts can lower the risks for diabetes. In some cases, getting the right balance of protein, fat, and carbs can help control blood sugar and assist with weight loss
- Check Blood Sugar Levels:It is important to keep track and recognize signs of low blood sugar when exercising, including dizziness, confusion, weakness, and profuse sweating. A healthcare provider will determine how frequently blood sugar levels should be checked
- Take Prescribed Medication: While doctors may prescribe medications to help manage diabetes, do not make the mistake of assuming a pill can fix everything. Diabetes medications can have different effects on each person. What may work for one, might not always be the case for another. A healthcare provider should be consulted before taking or discontinuing any medication
- Limit Alcohol Consumption:Refrain from drinking excessive amounts of alcohol or keep intake to less than one drink a day for women or two drinks a day for men
- Maintain a Healthy Weight: Areduction in body mass index (BMI), especially for the overweight or obese can help when attempting to manage diabetes without medication. Slow, steady weight loss goals are more likely to help retain long-term benefits
Taking care of diabetes can be a team effort. Whether newly diagnosed, living with diabetes for a while, or helping a loved one manage their condition, it is important to remember that every journey is unique, and everyone manages their condition in different ways.
The key to finding the right way to manage diabetes lies in working with healthcare providers to discover what will work best. While there is no current cure for diabetes, ongoing research has improved diagnosis, treatment, and knowledge about diabetes, allowing for better prevention and management.
The goal of caring for the disease is to make it fit into life, not the other way around. With the right tools, resources, and support, diabetes patients have options and HealthLinc is here to help.
At HealthLinc, we believe good health should be a priority for everyone. Offering services such as convenient same-day appointments, physical examinations, health and wellness education and more, it is our mission to give our patients the care they need to move forward and live their best life, beyond diabetes. To schedule an appointment, or for more information, contact us today.