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Health Topic of the Month

November: American Diabetes Month

Diabetes is a disease that affects many people. It's also a disease that continues to grow among the U.S population. Spend a little time this November learning about diabetes. USFHP wants you to be aware of the signs of the disease, but also how to prevent it!

Simply defined, diabetes is a disease where blood glucose levels are above normal. Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose, or sugar - our body uses the sugar for engergy. The hormone, insulin, has the important job of getting glucose into the cells of our body. Insulin is created by the pancreases, an organ located near the stomach. People with diabetes either don't make enough insulin or can't use the insulin their body creates. This means that, instead of being delivered to the cells, glucose, or sugar, stays in the bloodstream and builds up. Too much sugar in the blood can cause serious health issues such as heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, and lower extremity amputations. Fortunately, if you or a loved one have diabetes, there's treatment available to keep your blood sugar levels in check.

There are several types of diabetes, but the most prevalent is Type 2 diabetes, which account for 90% to 95% of all cases. Type 1 diabetes, gestational diabetes, and other specific types of diabetes account for the remainder of cases. Type 1 diabetes happens most often in children or young adults. It can appear at any age, though. Gestational diabetes is first diagnosed in pregnancy. Most of the time there are no symptoms for gestational diabetes. Blood sugar levels often return to normal after a woman gives birth.

There are certain risk factors that make it more likely that a person will develop type 2 diabetes. These include:

  • Older Age
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having high blood pressure measuring 140/90 or higher
  • Having abnormal cholesterol with HDL ("good") cholesterol being 35 or lower, or triglyceride level is 250 or higher
  • Family history of diabetes
  • Prior history of gestational diabetes
  • Impaired glucose tolerance
  • Physical inactivity
  • Race/ethnicity; African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, and some Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are at higher risk than other people not in these groups.

If you have any of the above mentioned risk factors, you may want to speak to your health care provider about getting a diabetes screening. Everyone over the age of 45 should consider getting tested for diabetes, even if they do not have risk factors.

If you or a loved one is experiencing any of the following symptoms, visit your primary care provider. Remember, in some cases people who have diabetes may not experience any symptoms.

  • Frequent urination
  • FEeling very thirsty
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme hunger
  • Sudden vision changes
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
  • Feeling exhausted much of the time
  • Very dry skin
  • Slow-healing sores
  • More infections than normal
  • List adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Ready for some good news? You can do quite a few things to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes! Maintaining a healthy weight, active lifestyle, and eating nutritiously can help prevent diabetes (and a whole host of other health issues). It's estimated that one in three adults have prediabetes, putting them at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Someone with prediabetes has a higher than normal blood sugar, but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes.

Excess weight has been shown to be the single most important cause of Type 2 diabetes. Being obese makes a person 20 to 40 times more likely to develop diabetes compared to those in a healthy weight range. For these individuals, losing 7 to 10 percent of her or his current body weight can decrease risk of diabetes by half.

Being more physically active also decreases the risk of diabetes; inactivity promotes type 2 diabetes. Recent research suggests that brisk walking (around 30 minutes per day) can reduce the risk by 30 percent. For more information, check out the Harvard School of Public Health information on preventing diabetes.

Resources

American Diabetes Association

Diabetes

MedLine Plus diabetes information