What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects how the body converts energy from the food we eat.  Typically, when we eat food, it gets broken down into sugar that enters our bloodstream.  This sugar is called glucose. When the level of glucose in our blood rises, the pancreas is alerted to release insulin.  Insulin tells our cells to absorb the sugar and convert it into energy.  However, when a person has diabetes, their body doesn’t make enough insulin or their cells don’t respond to it effectively.  This can cause the sugar in your blood to continue to circulate throughout your body.  As time goes on, the excess blood can wreak havoc on your body. Specifically, on your heart, kidneys, eyes and lead you to be more susceptible to infections.

Types of Diabetes

There are two main types of diabetes that affect the population.  Type 1 diabetes is caused by an autoimmune reaction by the body, in which the body prevents the pancreas from making insulin. This type is usually seen in children and young adults, affecting approximately 5-10 % of the population.  Individuals with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin daily to survive.  The other type of diabetes is Type 2, in which the body doesn’t use the insulin it makes effectively, resulting in poor regulation of blood sugar levels.  Type 2 diabetes affects approximately 90- 95% of the population.  You may not show any symptoms of type 2 diabetes, so it is important to see your doctor and get your blood sugar levels checked routinely.  Doctors will test your Hemoglobin A1C, a 90 day average of your daily blood sugars.  A level below 5.7% is normal for individuals without diabetes, while pre-diabetes is between 5.7%-6.4%, and diabetes is indicated at 6.5% or higher.  Type 2 diabetes can be prevented by proper diet and exercise.   Today, it is estimated that 34.2 million people have diabetes in the US, with still about 22% of the US population going undiagnosed.

What puts you at risk for Diabetes?

Most commonly diabetes is found in the African American, Hispanic/Latino American, American Indian, and Alaska Native populations.  You may be at higher risk of developing diabetes if you: have prediabetes, are overweight, are over 45 years old, have a relative with diabetes, or are not physically active.  Additionally, women may have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes if they have ever been diagnosed with gestational diabetes during pregnancy.

What are the symptoms of Diabetes?

If you feel that you are experiencing increased thirst, frequent urination, hunger, fatigue, blurry vision, increased yeast infections, numbness in your feet, or slow healing cuts or sores, tell your doctor as these might be signs or symptoms of diabetes.  It is important to remember that not all people with diabetes have symptoms, so be sure to consult with your doctor to be checked regularly.

How to prevent and manage Diabetes?

Diabetes can be prevented with lifestyle modifications.  It is recommended to have a balanced diet of vibrant colorful foods, filling your plate with vegetables and fiber-rich foods.  It is best to avoid concentrated sugars such as cookies, cake, ice cream, and candy. Swapping out carbs like potatoes, rice, pasta, and bread for leafy greens and smaller portions of whole-grain can help reduce the excess sugar in your bloodstream. For a comprehensive list and how to set up your plate, visit the Mayo Clinic’s website.

It is also important to increase your exercise to thirty minutes of aerobic exercise per week. Taking these steps will help your body stay healthy and reduce your risk of developing diabetes.  See the CDC for tips and tricks to help you stay more active.

If lifestyle modifications are not enough, your doctor can prescribe different medications to help your body absorb the sugar from your bloodstream.  These medications can include insulin itself, agents to help your body produce insulin, or agents that help your cells absorb the glucose from your bloodstream.  It is important to discuss all your options with your doctor.

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