November is National Diabetes Month. About 30 million people in the United States have diabetes, and about 84 million American adults have pre-diabetes. What is alarming is that one out of four people with diabetes do not know that they have it. So what is diabetes and why don’t some people know they have it?
Diabetes is a disease that occurs when the amount of glucose (blood sugar) in your blood is too high. Blood glucose is your body’s main source of energy and comes from the food you eat. Your body makes Insulin in your pancreas, and insulin helps glucose from food get into your cells to be used for energy. If your body doesn’t make enough insulin or doesn’t use insulin well, glucose will stay in your blood and not get into your cells. Over time, this excess glucose in your blood may cause heart disease, nerve damage, eye and dental problems, kidney disease, and foot problems besides diabetes.
“As more research has occurred and we have gained a better understanding of diabetes, there have been more specific 'types' of diabetes discovered,” shares Amber Albrecht, registered nurse and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES) at Cavalier County Memorial Hospital.
Types of Diabetes
-Type 1 diabetes happens when your body does not make insulin. It is usually diagnosed in children and young adults but can appear at any age. If you have type 1 diabetes, you need to take insulin every day.
-Type 2 diabetes is the most common and happens when your body does not make enough insulin or does not use the insulin well. Type 2 diabetes can develop at any age but occurs most often in middle-age and older people. "With the obesity epidemic and our lifestyles becoming more sedentary, we are seeing more and more young people with type 2 diabetes,” said Albrecht. Type 2 diabetes usually begins with insulin resistance, a condition in which your body does not use insulin well thus needing more insulin to help glucose enter cells. At first, the pancreas makes more insulin to keep up with the added demand, but over time the pancreas can’t make enough insulin and blood glucose levels rise.
-Gestational diabetes develops in some women when they are pregnant. Most of the time, this type of diabetes goes away after the baby is born. However, if you’ve had gestational diabetes, you have a greater chance of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. Sometimes diabetes diagnosed during pregnancy is actually type 2 diabetes.
-Prediabetes is when your blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be called diabetes. Having prediabetes is serious because it raises your chance of developing type 2 diabetes. You won’t know if you have prediabetes unless you are tested.
“The common signs of high blood sugar are being very thirsty, being very hungry, frequent urination and fatigue,” warns Albrecht. “These are more commonly noticed in type 1 diabetes because the blood sugar is usually much higher at diagnosis than with type 2. Someone with pre-diabetes may not have or notice any symptoms at all.”
Often, diabetes is diagnosed during a routine checkup. “The general rule is to begin screenings at age 45 and at least every 3 years from there,” said Albrecht. If you have risk factors, screening should begin earlier and occur more often. “Risk factors for type 2 diabetes are sedentary lifestyle, age, being overweight, history of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, first-degree relatives with diabetes, to name a few. If you have several risk factors or have prediabetes, screening should occur yearly."
If you have prediabetes, insulin resistance, or if you had gestational diabetes, you can lower your chance of developing type 2 diabetes with simple, healthy lifestyle changes.
“Preventing type 2 diabetes has to do with a person’s lifestyle,” advises Albrecht. “Eating a well-rounded diet, keeping a healthy lifestyle, and having routine check-ups are key factors in preventing or slowing the onset of type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is very different in that it is an autoimmune disease, and there is currently no known way to prevent it.”
Next week we will discuss more about the diabetes program at CCMH and how it can help you if you are diagnosed. There is also a wealth of information on the National Institute of Health’s diabetes website to help you understand and navigate a healthy lifestyle, how to reduce your risk of diabetes, and what to do if you are diagnosed with it. It can be found at https://www.niddk.nih.gov/.