November 14th is World Diabetes Day and part of Diabetes Awareness Month. Why have a month dedicated to diabetes awareness? Because diabetes or pre-diabetes affects more than 100 million Americans and about 1 in 11 adults worldwide. That’s more than 500 million people worldwide and growing. The symptoms of diabetes are often so subtle that more than 46% of people with diabetes don’t know they have it! Take charge of your health. Be vigilant, know your risk factors, and have regular checkups. Know how to recognize diabetes, the invisible killer.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a disease that occurs when your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high. Blood glucose is your main source of energy and comes from the food you eat. Insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, helps glucose from food get into your cells to be used for energy. Sometimes your body doesn’t make enough—or any—insulin or doesn’t use insulin well. Glucose then stays in your blood and doesn’t reach your cells. (Definition from NIH.Gov health information.)
What Causes Diabetes?
There are different types of diabetes. Each has its own causes.
Type 2 Diabetes is the most common. It affects nearly 90% of all who have the disease.Typically, it is caused by insulin resistance. The body’s cells don’t respond properly to the insulin that is in the body. We aren’t certain exactly why this happens but certain behaviors increase your risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes. (See Risk Factors below)
Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune reaction where the body attacks the insulin making cells of the pancreas.Having a family member with Type 1 slightly increases your risk of developing the disease. Scientists have linked some environmental factors to the disease and some viral infections. These things are under investigation but it needs more research.
Prediabetes is when your blood sugar levels are higher than normal but are not yet high enough to be diabetic. With lifestyle and dietary changes you can delay and perhaps prevent becoming diabetic.
Pre-gestational diabetes occurs when blood sugars are high during pregnancy. Often the woman’s blood sugars return to normal after pregnancy, but that doesn’t mean she won’t ever get diabetes.
Diabetes is not caused by eating too much sugar or certain foods. A diet with lots of high-carbohydrate, processed foods resulting in weight gain has been shown to increase your risk of getting diabetes but doesn’t cause it.
Who Can Get Diabetes?
Anyone can get diabetes. There is no exception for the fat, thin, young, old, race, or gender. People with many risk factors are more likely to get diabetes than people who have fewer or no risk factors. But there is no guarantee.
Most commonly, Type 2 occurs in adults. However, more and more children are diagnosed with Type 2 each year.
Type 1 Diabetes, once known as Juvenile Diabetes was considered a disease of infants, children, and young people. We know now that Type 1 Diabetes can affect anyone of any age.
Are You at Risk?
How do you know if you might develop diabetes? There are certain things, risk factors, associated with the disease.
Risk factors associated with diabetes include:
- Family history of diabetes
- Anyone with a body mass index higher than 25 (23 for Asian-Americans), regardless of age, who has additional risk factors, such as high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, a sedentary lifestyle, a history of polycystic ovary syndrome or heart disease, and having a close relative with diabetes.
- Unhealthy diet
- Physical inactivity
- Anyone older than age 45 should have an initial blood sugar screening, and then, if the results are normal, re-check the blood sugar levels every three years thereafter.
- High blood pressure
- Ethnicity—American Indian and Alaskan natives, non-Hispanic blacks, and Hispanics are at highest risk.
- Impaired glucose tolerance (IGT)
- Any woman diagnosed with gestational diabetes should have her blood sugar levels checked every three years.
- Poor nutrition during pregnancy
- Anyone diagnosed with prediabetes should check their blood sugar levels every year.
What are the Symptoms?
Often, the symptoms of diabetes are subtle. You may not recognize the symptoms because they are so mild. Or you might misdiagnose yourself. Your doctor may miss the symptoms because of other health issues you may have. Talk to your doctor about your risk factors. Be vigilant and knowledgeable. Protect yourself and your loved ones. Know how to recognize diabetes, the invisible killer.
The symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes can be mild or absent and include:
- Excessive thirst and dry mouth
- Frequent urination
- Lack of energy, tiredness
- Slow healing wounds
- Recurrent infections in the skin
- Blurred vision
- Tingling or numbness in hands and feet.
People with type 2 diabetes may completely unaware they have diabetes for years. Those years of untreated diabetes greatly increase their risk of complications.
Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes often presents as
- Abnormal thirst and dry mouth
- Sudden weight loss
- Frequent urination
- Lack of energy, tiredness
- Constant hunger
- Blurred vision
These symptoms can be difficult to spot in small children. Be aware. If your child’s symptoms are persistent, see the doctor.
How is Diabetes Diagnosed?
The way to diagnose diabetes is to measure insulin and blood sugar in the blood.
Glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test. This blood test measures the percentage of blood sugar attached to the hemoglobin (oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells). The results show your average blood sugar level for the past two or three months.
Fasting Blood Sugar Test—Before they draw your blood for this test, you must have nothing to eat or drink overnight. Normal fasting blood sugars are 100 mg/dL (5.6 mmol/L) or less. A prediabetic has a fasting blood sugar level from 100 to 125 mg/dL (5.6 to 6.9 mmol/L). Above that, on two separate tests means you have diabetes.
Random Blood Sugar Test – a blood test taken regardless of when you last ate. If your blood sugar level is 200 or greater, it suggests that you have diabetes.
Oral glucose tolerance test. For this test, you fast overnight. The next morning, a tech or nurse will draw a fasting blood sugar level. Then you drink a sugary liquid. They take blood periodically for the next two hours and measure the blood sugar levels. High levels or levels that don’t go down at a normal rate may mean you have pregestational diabetes.
Your doctor may want to test your insulin levels to determine Insulin-resistance. If other hormonal issues may be a concern, additional blood tests may be ordered.
Need More Information?
Diabetes, the invisible killer, can kill before you know you have it. But diabetes doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Educate yourself. Go to reliable sites that will give you factual information. Yes, I recommend that you seek more than one. Find one that speaks in a way you understand.
Know your risk factors. Monitor your blood sugar. Eat a balanced diet and exercise.
Diabetes is a disease I know well from my previous career as a registered nurse. Unfortunately, I also have up-close and personal knowledge. Regular readers may remember that my niece has Type 1 Diabetes. My husband is an Insulin-dependent Type 2 Diabetic. I am a medication-controlled Type 2 Diabetic. Others in my family are exercise-and diet-controlled Diabetics.
Not recognizing the disease, not managing the disease, and sometimes genetics can cause complications of diabetes. I’ll talk about treatment and some of the complications next week.
In the meantime, live as healthy of a lifestyle as you can. Get regular checkups. Have your doctor monitor for diabetes. If you have risk factors, be proactive not reactive. Learn how to recognize diabetes, the invisible killer, before it causes irreparable harm to you or your loved ones. Do you know your blood sugar levels?