Diabetes is a growing trend in America, and many of us have family members or friends with this potentially debilitating and deadly disease. According to the CDC, over 25 million American adults have diabetes, and 79 million have prediabetes. Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in America and costs us over $174 billion annually. The personal and financial burden of diabetes is not going to improve until Americans take responsibility for our own health, starting with education.
There are three types of diabetes, including type 1, which occurs after damage to the pancreatic beta-islet cells that produce insulin. Type 1 diabetes accounts for up to 10% of all people with diabetes and usually occurs through an autoimmune process in childhood, although some adults can present with type 1. Symptoms include increased thirst and urination, rapid weight loss, blurry vision, and fatigue. Type 1 diabetes requires insulin treatment immediately.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common, more than 80% of cases, and will manifest when the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin to keep pace with increasing glucose (blood sugar) in the blood. The majority of patients are obese adults, and their cells are also insulin resistant, meaning they do not respond to insulin and normal cells. Insulin is the key that brings glucose into a cell to be used for energy, but insulin-resistant cells have been exposed to such high insulin levels for years that they soon require more insulin than your body can produce. People with type 2 diabetes usually also have hypertension and elevated cholesterol. More children are also being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes as well, because of obesity. Symptoms are similar to those in type 1 but are usually milder. Treatment can often start with oral medications, but if lifestyle modifications, including weight loss and a healthy diet, many will require insulin. Serious complications such as blindness, amputation, heart disease, and stroke are frequent when blood sugars remain uncontrolled.
Gestational diabetes is the third type and occurs during pregnancy and is the least common. Treatment requires dietary modification and usually insulin because it is essential to control blood sugars to prevent fetal complications. Women who receive prenatal care are routinely tested for diabetes. Women who had gestational diabetes are 35-60% more likely to develop diabetes in 10 years.
What can you do to prevent diabetes or determine if you are one of the 7 million Americans undiagnosed with diabetes? First, if you are overweight, have hypertension or elevated cholesterol, have a family history of diabetes, or previously abnormal blood sugar test, you are at risk. Prevention and early detection is key to stopping the evolution of diabetes. See your primary care provider and ask to be tested, engage in daily exercise, remove junk food, and processed food from your diet, and eat more fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts.