Understanding and preventing diabetes


November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. Diabetes is a chronic, long-lasting, health condition that causes blood sugar levels to rise far above what’s healthy. This disease affects millions of Americans, but with medical testing and healthy lifestyle choices, it’s very preventable. That’s why it’s essential to understand it.

What is Diabetes?

Normally, when we eat something, our body releases insulin that allows our cells to absorb the sugar from our bloodstream. In a diabetic patient, the body doesn’t produce enough insulin, or doesn’t respond to insulin correctly. This causes blood sugar levels to rise, which can lead to many health issues, including heart disease, kidney disease, vision loss, or stroke.

What are the different types of diabetes?

Type I diabetes occurs when the body stops producing insulin entirely. It is usually diagnosed early in childhood, though it can sometimes manifest in adults. While the disease is genetic and lasts one’s whole life, patients can manage their blood sugar levels using diet, lifestyle changes and insulin injections. 

Type II diabetes arises later in life, and is caused by a mix of factors, including genetics, weight, age, and diet. It occurs when cells stop responding to the insulin the body produces, causing blood sugar levels to rise. Type II diabetes is very common, and accounts for more than 90 percent of diabetes cases in the United States. Once this disease develops, you must manage it for the rest of your life. The good news is it can be prevented in most patients. Eating a balanced diet, engaging in regular physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight can help.

Gestational diabetes occurs only in females and results when pregnancy-related body changes affect the ability to make enough insulin. It typically goes away after birth but can increase the mother’s and the child’s risk for Type II diabetes later in life.

Prediabetes is a related condition that precedes Type II diabetes. It occurs when blood sugar levels are elevated but aren’t yet high enough to qualify as diabetes. Prediabetes can be thought of as a “warning sign” – you may be at risk of developing diabetes, but there’s still time to change direction. With help from your doctor, you can adopt healthy lifestyle habits and avoid Type II diabetes entirely.

How common is diabetes?

Diabetes is a serious health concern for many people. It’s estimated that over 37 million Americans are diabetic – more than 11 percent of the population. Of those people, around 20 percent are undiagnosed and unaware they have the disease.

Prediabetes is even more common. More than one in three Americans – around 96 million people – has prediabetes, and around 80 percent don’t know it.

Do I have diabetes?

Certain symptoms can indicate diabetes or prediabetes. If you are experiencing unusual hunger or fatigue, blurry vision, tingling in the hands and feet, slow-healing sores, or increased urination (especially at night), you should talk to your provider immediately. However, diabetes and prediabetes often have no symptoms at all. This is why testing is so important.

What can I do to prevent diabetes?

The first step in preventing diabetes is knowing your risk. A simple blood sugar test can determine if you have diabetes or prediabetes, and your provider can help you understand your other risk factors, such as lifestyle and family history. With your provider’s assistance, you can form a plan of diet, exercise and medication (if needed) to keep your blood sugar at a healthy level.

This Diabetes Awareness Month, visit mmclc.org/schedule to schedule a check-up with your provider and learn what you can do to stay healthy.

Dr. Kadous is a physician for Memorial Medical Center. For more information on diabetes, visit www.cdc.gov/diabetes and www.diabetes.org.