If you gathered ten of your closest friends in a room and tried to guess their health issues, would you be surprised to find out that one of them has diabetes? It’s a condition that we hear about rather often, but the statistics surrounding this issue and the health ramifications that come along with it are staggering. According to a 2015 report compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 30.3 million Americans have diabetes, which works out to be just under 10% of the entire population.
7.2 million of that group haven’t even been diagnosed yet, meaning this condition is potentially causing a number of concerning symptoms without individuals knowing what’s to blame. Diabetes is much more than just an illness that prevents you from indulging in sweet foods—it’s a lifelong condition that can bring along severe health challenges if left uncontrolled.
During the month of November, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases celebrates National Diabetes Month in an effort to raise awareness about this serious condition. Every year, they incorporate a different theme, and in 2018, are focusing on good health after gestational diabetes. Today, we’re exploring all things diabetes and learning how to be proactive about your health.
One Disease, Several Types
The term diabetes is used as a blanket statement by most, but did you know that there are actually three different ways that this condition can manifest? In order to understand how to prevent, diagnose, and treat diabetes, it’s important to grasp the nuances of each type:
- Type 1 diabetes – Formerly called juvenile diabetes, this iteration often develops during childhood, although adults can be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as well. When this occurs, the body stops producing insulin, the key element that carries glucose from the things we eat into our bloodstream and to our cells. The body relies on insulin to function effectively, and individuals with type 1 diabetes often end up on a lifetime regimen of insulin shots.
- Type 2 diabetes – Most of the people who have diabetes actually have type 2 diabetes, which is often referred to as adult-onset diabetes. In this instance, the body does make insulin at a normal rate, but your metabolic system does not use the insulin properly. This can cause blood sugar levels to spike and crash if one is careless with their diet, and individuals often utilize tools to check their blood sugar regularly after having received this diagnosis.
- Gestational diabetes – Having diabetes isn’t always a permanent condition, and women who are pregnant are sometimes at risk for gestational diabetes. The symptoms often mimic those of type 2 diabetes and the issue is taken very seriously to ensure the health of both the mother and baby. In many cases, a woman’s blood sugar will return to normal after giving birth, but she can then be at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
The term prediabetes may also sound familiar, and while this condition isn’t technically the full-blown disease, many view it as a warning to make certain lifestyle changes. Prediabetes means that you have higher than normal blood sugar and while you don’t yet have type 2 diabetes, you’re on that path if your diet and exercise habits do not change. Prediabetes often creeps up on individuals without presenting any warning signs, but a quick test at your doctor’s office can determine if your blood sugar is elevated. Weight loss as well as eating a more balanced diet can reduce your chances of developing type 2 diabetes, and in some cases, can even reverse prediabetes.
Are You At Risk?
While it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact chances of anyone developing most diseases, there are certain risk factors that experts have discovered when it comes to the condition. As the varying types of diabetes manifest themselves for different reasons, your exact risk level is very individualized. Those who have an increased likelihood of developing type 1 diabetes can be affected by:
- Family history – Certain genes may be related to the onset of type 1 diabetes, and if a close family member has already developed the condition, you are likely at a higher risk of developing it as well.
- Location – Medical professionals have found that the farther away someone lives from the equator, the higher your chance is to develop type 1 diabetes. Perhaps this is due to seasonal diets or the inability to engage in activities outside due to colder weather, but a clear pattern has been established by the medical community.
- Age – Although type 1 diabetes can affect anyone, young children and adolescents are more often diagnosed than individuals in other age groups. It’s essential that parents monitor their children’s health, particularly when there is a family history of type 1 diabetes, to ensure that any conditions are diagnosed quickly.
Unfortunately, type 1 diabetes can’t be prevented, and even the most health-conscious individuals may end up with this life-long condition. On the other hand, type 2 diabetes is often preventable through diet and exercise measures. Risk factors can include:
- Having an excessive amount of belly fat, being inactive, or being overweight or obese
- Genetic factors, including family members who have type 2 diabetes
- Certain ethnicities including African-American, Hispanic or Latino American, American Indian, or Alaska Native heritage
- Having prediabetes
- Being over the age of 45
- A history of gestational diabetes or having birthed a child weighing over 9 pounds
Even if many of the above factors do not apply to you, there is still a chance that you can develop type 2 diabetes. Depending on your metabolism, diet patterns, and exercise routines, your blood sugar and insulin levels may become affected to a larger degree than you’d imagine.
Prevention Is Key
For Americans to reduce their risk of being diabetic, or at the very least, becoming aware and taking appropriate measures once they suspect they may have the condition, it pays to understand the most common symptoms and ways to stay in good health. While both type 1 and type 2 tend to be associated with the same symptoms, the onset of each type varies dramatically. Adverse health concerns often materialize quickly with type 1, and within one to two weeks an individual will be acutely aware that something is wrong. Type 2 symptoms can manifest over time, yet in either case, individuals may notice the following:
- An increase in urination coupled by an insatiable thirst
- Blurred vision
- Itchy skin and a dry mouth
- Unusual levels of hunger that’s also associated with excess fatigue
- Pain or numbness in the legs or feet
- Cuts or sores that take an unusually long time to heal
- Yeast infections in both men and women
Knowing about these warning signs and being able to seek medical attention once they occur is one of the best ways to gain control over your diabetes, and while it isn’t a reversible condition, you can live a normal and healthy life through proper diet and exercise.
Of course, the safest route is to maintain a healthy lifestyle well ahead of becoming prediabetic. What can you specifically do to keep diabetes at bay? Experts recommend a variety of actions that include getting enough sleep and keeping your stress level in check. Moderate exercise that totals at least 150 minutes per week in addition to drinking more water can also help. Lastly, filling your plate with nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables will help you to lose excess fat and keep your blood sugar at a more even level throughout the day.
Living With Diabetes
If you have been diagnosed with any of the three types of diabetes, or have been informed that you are prediabetic, you may feel concerned about your health and well-being. Keep in mind that both type 1 and gestational diabetes occur no matter how well you treat your body, and with adequate communication between you and your physician, you can learn to manage the condition and continue to live a full life.
Type 2 diabetes is an indicator that something has to change, because if ignored, this condition can lead to a host of serious medical complications that will greatly impact your quality of life. If you suspect that you are diabetic or have prediabetes, schedule a visit with your primary care physician right away. He or she can check your blood sugar levels and determine the most appropriate course of treatment. While type 2 diabetes cannot be cured, proper management can help to avoid further complications.
This November, take some time to evaluate your own health and wellness and see if you might be contributing to behaviors that could lead to a diabetes diagnosis. It’s never too late to take charge of your health, and starting small is often an easy way to make lasting changes. Slowly limit the amount of sugar you consume and replace those items with fresh fruit and vegetables. Before long, you’ll feel better than ever and your risk of developing diabetes will plummet.
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