Diabetes can be a difficult condition to live with as it can influence almost any decision you make on a daily basis. Each person diagnosed with diabetes will experience it differently, whether it is type 1, type 2, or gestational, but the most important thing is learning how to take control and live a healthy life. In the spirit of American Diabetes Month, we would like to bring awareness to this disease and the millions who live with it every day.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a disease that affects how your body uses glucose or blood sugar. Glucose helps supply the cells of your tissues and muscles with energy as well as acts as your brain’s main fuel source. There are essentially three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational.
- Type 1 Diabetes: Type 1 affects roughly 25 million Americans and can occur at any age, in any race, and is not determined by a person’s weight or size. It is due to the body’s inability to produce insulin, which is how your body delivers needed glucose to the cells. It can typically be managed with the help of proper diet, exercise, and insulin therapy or other treatments.
- Type 2 Diabetes: Type 2 is the most common form of diabetes, simply meaning your body isn’t using insulin properly. Some may be able to control blood sugar simply through a healthy diet and exercise, but others will require medication or insulin to help, as well.
- Gestational Diabetes: Gestational diabetes affects millions of women and is a form of insulin resistance that develops during pregnancy, usually resolved once the baby is born. Unfortunately, the exact cause is not known, but it’s believed hormones from the placenta block the mother’s own insulin, leading to a resistance that may require up to three times as much insulin just to make up for it. It can be dangerous for both mother and baby, so prompt diagnosis and thorough treatment plan including healthy diet and physical activity will help ensure a safe pregnancy and delivery.
Common Symptoms of Diabetes
Diabetes may exhibit symptoms if the blood sugar is very high, but many with type 2 diabetes won’t experience any symptoms right away. Those with type 1, however, will generally experience a quicker onset of symptoms and they may be more severe. Common symptoms include:
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Extreme hunger
- Unexplained weight loss
- The presence of ketones in urine due to breakdown of muscle and fat
- Blurred vision
- Slow-healing sores
- Frequent gum, skin, or vaginal infections
If you believe you or a loved one may have diabetes, contact your doctor. Receiving an early, proper diagnosis is important in order to begin treatment and management.
Risks Factors for Diabetes
Because diabetes has multiple forms, there are different risk factors that may result in a person developing diabetes. It is important to note that while these factors are commonly found in those with diabetes, the exact causes of each is still unknown.
Type 1 risk factors include:
- Family history of type 1 diabetes, particularly in a parent or sibling
- Certain environmental factors, such as exposure to viral illness
- The presence of autoantibodies or damaging immune system cells
- Being from specific countries, such as Finland or Sweden
Type 2 risk factors include:
- Higher weight
- Low to no physical activity
- Family history of type 2 diabetes, particularly in a parent or sibling
- If you are black, Hispanic, American Indian, or Asian-American
- Age; while the risk is higher for older individuals, cases are increasing in children, adolescents and young adults
- Had gestational diabetes or given birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
- Having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- High blood pressure over 140/90
- Abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels
Gestational risk factors include:
- Pregnant women over the age of 25
- Family or personal history; if a parent or sibling has type 2 diabetes, you had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy, previously delivered a large baby, or experienced an unexplained stillbirth
- Being overweight prior to pregnancy
- If you are black, Hispanic, American Indian or Asian
Complications of Diabetes
Depending on the type of diabetes, there are several risks and complications that may occur. When the amount of glucose in the blood is not controlled properly in those with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, the person may be at risk for:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Nerve damage
- Kidney damage
- Eye damage
- Foot damage
- Skin conditions such as bacterial or fungal infections
- Hearing impairment
- Alzheimer’s disease
Women with gestational diabetes are at risk of:
- Developing type 2 diabetes later in life
- Developing preeclampsia
- Experiencing gestational diabetes in subsequent pregnancies
- Having babies with higher birth weight
- Having babies born with low blood sugar
- In some cases, death of the baby prior to or shortly after birth
How to Help during American Diabetes Month
Even if you have not been diagnosed with diabetes, chances are you know someone who has. Because it is a disease that can truly take over a person’s life, it is important to be educated and understand how you can be supportive. There are many misconceptions about diabetes, but learning about the everyday reality that is experienced by so many is a great place to start. You can help prevent type 2 or gestational diabetes by eating healthy, staying physically active, and, for those overweight, losing just 7% of your body weight – although weight loss is not recommended during pregnancy, so talk with your doctor if you may be at risk.
If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with diabetes, visit Decatur County Memorial Hospital for comprehensive Diabetes Patient Education. Taught by a Registered Nurse and Registered Dietician, you’ll receive the tools to help make healthy lifestyle changes in order to avoid complications. We also offer a Diabetes Support Group for those who have been diagnosed to come together and discuss challenges and help one another, as well as learn about new things, such as testing options, and hear from guest speakers.