Speaking of Health: Diabetes awareness: Becoming a healthier type
By Vickie Parsons Mayo Clinic Health System
Approximately 25.8 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with diabetes and 7 million remain undiagnosed, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Diabetes is a chronic disease that costs our nation thousands of lives each year, so it’s important that everyone gain greater awareness about diabetes prevention and management.
What is diabetes? Diabetes can be caused by insufficient production of, or resistance to, a hormone called insulin. There are several types of diabetes, all of which are a result of excessively high blood sugar (glucose).
Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults and was formerly referred to as juvenile diabetes. Type 1 is caused by the body not producing enough insulin.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes and affects millions of Americans – both diagnosed and undiagnosed. With type 2 diabetes, the body either resists the effects of insulin or doesn’t produce enough insulin. Obesity is a key factor in developing insulin resistance, which can lead to type 2 diabetes.
Gestational diabetes may occur during the latter half of pregnancy in women who did not previously have diabetes. These women are considered at higher risk for type 2 diabetes later in life. It’s important to monitor blood sugar levels throughout the pregnancy to keep the mother and child healthy.
Prediabetes is a condition where blood sugar levels are abnormally high, but not high enough to be classified as type 2 diabetes. Individuals diagnosed with prediabetes are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, so it should be proactively addressed through weight reduction and regular exercise.
What are symptoms of diabetes? Prediabetes often has no obvious signs. However, common symptoms of other forms of diabetes include:
Excessive hunger and/or thirst.
Unusual weight loss.
Additional signs of type 2 diabetes include:
Frequent and recurring infections.
Tingling and numbness in the hands and feet.
Slow healing cuts or bruises.
However, not all type 2 diabetics experience symptoms. If you have any concerns or questions about diabetes, it’s important to speak with your health care provider.
How serious is the impact of diabetes? According to the CDC, diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S., accounting for 70,000 lives lost in 2009.
Diabetes also presents a myriad of potential long-term complications, including increased risk of heart disease, stroke and damage to the eyes, feet and kidneys. In effect, diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure, according to the American Diabetes Association.
In gestational diabetes, issues such as excess fetal growth, early (preterm) birth, jaundice, low blood sugar and future type 2 diabetes may affect the baby.
How can I manage and prevent diabetes? As with other chronic diseases, it’s critical to maintain a healthy diet that includes dietary fiber from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Also, limit the intake of saturated fats and high glycemic foods such as sugary treats, soft drinks, white bread, pastas and potatoes.
Moderate exercise is key as well – ideally, 30 minutes a day, five days per week. Regular aerobic activity helps individuals shed pounds, feel better and subsequently improve or prevent diabetic conditions. In fact, moderate exercise can lower blood sugar for up to 24 hours.
A chronic disease like diabetes doesn’t have to strain your health. With education and a few lifestyle changes, you will make significant strides toward becoming a healthier “type.”
Vickie Parsons is a Mayo Clinic Health System certified nurse practitioner and certified diabetes educator.