Diabetes is a serious disease. If not diagnosed and treated early, it can have dire consequences, causing blindness, heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, birth defects, and amputations. Diabetes kills more than 200,000 Americans every year.
You may not know you have it. Onset is often gradual and difficult to identify—you can have diabetes without any symptoms. In fact, half of those affected don’t even know they have the disease until they seek help for one of its complications.
Diabetes is a growing disease. More than 25 million Americans have diabetes—that’s approximately 8 percent of the U.S. population! Sadly, experts predict that this number will only continue to rise unless Americans start taking control of their health.
Half of the people who have diabetes don’t even know it, and our chances of developing this serious disease increases with age. Find out what you can do to help prevent and screen for diabetes.
There are several types of diabetes, all of which are caused by the body’s inability to produce or properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone that maintains the proper level of sugar in your blood. After eating, your food is broken down into glucose (sugar), which then passes into your bloodstream and to your body’s cells for energy. However, for your cells to receive the sugar, they need insulin to “escort” it in. Diabetes causes excess sugar in the blood, which damages the blood vessels and nerves.
Type 1 diabetes is often diagnosed in children and young adults, and may have a sudden and severe onset requiring emergency medical care.
The body’s immune system attacks and destroys the ability of the pancreas to make insulin, so people with Type 1 must eat a special diet, get regular exercise, and check their blood sugar levels and give themselves shots of insulin repeatedly through the day.
Researchers believe several genes, as well as diet or exposure to certain viruses, may trigger the immune system to destroy insulin-producing beta cells. Some symptoms may not surface for several years, but then seem to emerge suddenly, often after an illness.
Ninety to 95 percent of people with diabetes have Type 2. It’s usually diagnosed in older adults, although overweight children sometimes develop it as well. Millions of people have Type 2 diabetes and don’t know it. It is caused by the pancreas not making enough insulin or the body not using it well. People can have Type 2 diabetes for years without any symptoms, yet the disease is damaging their bodies. That’s why it’s so important to get a screening test if you’re at risk.
Roughly 4 percent of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes. It usually goes away after the pregnancy, but almost half of these women will later develop Type 2 diabetes. These women will need to begin treatment immediately, as the disease can damage the growing fetus. Screening for gestational diabetes is part of any good prenatal care program.
People with diabetes may have some, or none, of the following symptoms:
There is no cure for diabetes yet, but we know a lot about managing the disease. If you are diabetic, living a healthy lifestyle that includes a good diet, exercise, and weight control can help keep your blood sugar levels at an acceptable range which is the most important thing you can do to prevent long-term complications.
Good control of blood sugar can reduce your risk of eye, nerve, and kidney complications by 50 to 70 percent and lower your risk for heart attack, stroke, and limb amputation. Depending on the type and severity of your diabetes, you may need to combine these measures with medication to keep your blood sugar under control.
MAINTAIN A HEALTHY WEIGHT. Maintaining your proper weight is a key component in managing Type 2 diabetes and in preventing its onset. Eighty to 90 percent of people with Type 2 diabetes are overweight. Being overweight causes your cells to become more resistant to your own insulin. Losing excess weight will reduce that resistance and in some cases, bring your blood sugar back into the normal range. Exercise and diet can help you control your weight.
COMMIT TO EATING WELL. A diet containing a variety of high-fiber foods, fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and fish will help you control your blood sugar levels. Research shows that slow-acting carbohydrates like dried beans, legumes, peanuts, yogurt, apples, broccoli, oranges, and whole grains are better than fast-acting carbohydrates like sweet drinks and white bread.
EAT THREE MODERATE MEALS A DAY.Avoid very large meals or skipping meals, which can cause wide glucose swings. Instead, eat smaller servings at regular periods throughout the day.
EXERCISE. If you’re at risk for developing diabetes, exercise may help prevent it. If you already have diabetes, exercise can reduce or eliminate the need for insulin. Exercise helps control weight, makes cells more sensitive to insulin, uses up blood sugar, increases blood flow, improves circulation throughout the body, and reduces your risk for cardiovascular disease. Try to exercise at the same time each day and check your blood glucose before and after exercising. Talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise program.
COMMUNICATE REGULARLY WITH HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONALSBecause diabetes is a complex disease, you may need a health care team including your doctor, nurse, dietitian, and possibly an eye or foot doctor or cardiologist. You and your doctor will put together a diabetes care plan that will work with your lifestyle.
You need to stay in touch with your doctor by phone every week—or even daily—when starting a new diabetes care plan or making big changes in your current plan. Thereafter, you should see your doctor two to three times a year. If you take insulin, are having trouble controlling your glucose levels, or are having complications, you’ll need to see your doctor more often.
Always carry a fast-acting sugar with you such as juice or candy in case you experience a drop or rise in blood sugar levels. This is particularly important if you exercise. Also, never skip meals or snacks. Consider carrying an ID card which can be obtained from the American Diabetes Association that includes symptoms for high or low sugar levels and actions to take.
Action:If possible, check your blood sugar level and take insulin if it’s prescribed. If you don’t feel better, contact a health care professional immediately.
Action:Take a fast-acting sugar such as juice, soft drink (not diet), candy, etc. If you don’t feel better, contact a health care professional immediately.
More than 7 million Americans have diabetes and don’t know it. Take the following quiz to determine your risk. Write in the points next to each statement that is true. If a statement is not true, put a zero. Then add up your score.
If you scored 3-9 points: You are probably at low risk for developing diabetes now, but you could be at a higher risk in the future. Exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight can help prevent diabetes. The American Diabetes Association recommends everyone be tested for the disease at age 45 and every three years thereafter. Those at increased risk should be tested at a younger age and more frequently.
If you scored 10 points or more: You are at high risk for having diabetes. See a doctor soon and find out for sure.
American Diabetes Associationwww.diabetes.orgNational Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseaseswww.niddk.nih.gov
WELCOA (Wellness Council of America)17002 Marcy Street, Suite 140Omaha, NE 68118Phone: (402) 827-3590www.welcoa.org
©2014 Wellness Councils of America
The information contained in this brochure has been carefully reviewed for accuracy. It is not intended to replace the advice of your physician or health care provider.
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