Diabetes is a problem with your body that causes blood glucose (sugar) levels to rise higher than normal. This is also called hyperglycemia.
Preventive care for people with diabetes—and for the risk factors that cause related health problems—
has improved significantly over the past 20 years, and people are living longer and better with the disease. Good management over a lifetime is the key.
Facts about Diabetes
More than 29 million people in the United States have diabetes, but 1 out of 4 don’t know they have it. There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes (diabetes while pregnant).
Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, and was previously known as juvenile diabetes. Only 5% of people with diabetes have this form of the disease. In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin. The body breaks down the sugars and starches you eat into a simple sugar called glucose, which it uses for energy. Insulin is a hormone that the body needs to get glucose from the bloodstream into the cells of the body. With the help of insulin therapy and other treatments, even young children can learn to manage their condition and live long, healthy lives.
Most people with diabetes—9 out of 10—have type 2 diabetes where the body does not use insulin properly. This is called insulin resistance. At first, the pancreas makes extra insulin to make up for it. But, over time it isn’t able to keep up and can’t make enough insulin to keep blood glucose at normal levels. When glucose builds up in the blood instead of going into cells, it can cause two problems:
• Right away, cells may be starved for energy.
• Over time, high blood glucose levels may hurt the eyes, kidneys, nerves or heart.
Some people with type 2 can control their blood glucose with healthy eating and being active. But, your doctor may need to also prescribe oral medications or insulin to help you meet your target blood glucose levels. Type 2 usually gets worse over time – even if you don’t need medications at first, you may need to later on.
Some groups have a higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes than others. Type 2 diabetes is more common in African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders, as well as the aged population.
Risk factors include
• Being overweight.
• Being 45 years or older.
• Having a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes.
• Being physically active less than 3 times a week.
• Ever having gestational diabetes or giving birth to a baby that weighed more than 9 pounds.
If you have any of these risk factors, ask your doctor if you should be tested for diabetes. The sooner you find out, the sooner you can start making healthy changes that will benefit you now and in the future.
The following symptoms of diabetes are typical. However, some people with type 2 diabetes have symptoms so mild that they go unnoticed.
Common symptoms of diabetes:
• Urinating often
• Feeling very thirsty
• Feeling very hungry – even though you are eating
• Extreme fatigue
• Blurry vision
• Cuts/bruises that are slow to heal
• Weight loss – even though you are eating more (type 1)
• Tingling, pain, or numbness in the hands/feet (type 2)
Managing diabetes from the beginning can mean fewer health problems later on.
It’s a balancing act—food, activity, medicine, and blood sugar levels—but one that can be mastered by:
• Following a healthy eating plan, including eating more fruits and vegetables and less sugar and salt.
• Getting physically active—10 to 20 minutes a day is better than only an hour once a week.
• Taking diabetes medicine as prescribed by your doctor.
• Testing your blood sugar regularly to understand and track how food, activity, and medicine affect your blood sugar levels.
Know Your ABCs
Work with your doctor to manage your diabetes ABCs, and keep a record of your numbers. Results will help determine if your treatment plan is working and you’re able to stay in your target range—for example, an A1C of 7% or less—or if adjustments need to be made. Staying on track will help lower your risk of additional health problems.
• A—the A1C test, which measures average blood sugar over 2 to 3 months.
• B—blood pressure, the force of blood flow inside blood vessels.
• C—cholesterol, a group of blood fats that affect the risk of heart attack or stroke.
• S—stop smoking or don’t start.
Diabetes by the Numbers
• 29.1 million US adults have diabetes—and 1 out of 4 don’t know they have it.
• At least 1 out of 3 people will develop diabetes in their lifetime.
• Medical costs for people with diabetes are twice as high as for people without diabetes.
• Risk of death for adults with diabetes is 50% higher than for adults without diabetes.
People with type 1 or type 2 diabetes are at higher risk for serious health complications, including:
• Heart disease and stroke: People with diabetes are twice as likely to have heart disease or a stroke as people without diabetes, and at an earlier age.
• Blindness and eye problems: Diabetic retinopathy (damage to blood vessels in the retina), cataract (clouding of the lens), and glaucoma (increase in fluid pressure in the eye) can all result in vision loss.
• Kidney disease: High blood sugar levels can damage the kidneys over time, long before you start to feel bad.
• Amputations: This means you could lose a foot or leg. Diabetes causes damage to blood vessels and nerves, particularly in the feet, and can lead to serious, hard-to-treat infections. Amputation may be necessary to keep the infection from spreading.
But good blood sugar control can help you avoid or delay these serious health complications, and treating complications as soon as possible can help prevent them from getting worse.
Get on a Wellness Schedule
• Every day: stay active, eat a healthy diet, and take medication; check feet for redness, swelling, pain, or sores.
• Each health care visit (at least 4 times a year): blood pressure check; foot check.
• Twice a year: A1C test; dental checkup.
• Once a year: cholesterol test; kidney function test; podiatrist (foot doctor) and eye doctor visits; flu shot (and other vaccines as recommended by your doctor).
Pay Attention to Prediabetes
More than a third of American adults—around 86 million—have prediabetes, and 9 out of 10 don’t know it. With prediabetes, blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as diabetes.
Prediabetes can put people at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Without lifestyle changes, 15%-30% of people with prediabetes will develop type 2 diabetes within 5 years. Take action now—by eating healthier and getting more physical activity—to help prevent prediabetes from becoming type 2 diabetes and reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Living with diabetes is challenging, but it’s important to remember that making healthy choices can have a big effect on the course of the disease—and your quality of life.