As many as seven million adults are living with a chronic, potentially deadly condition that they don’t even know they have. It can develop with no warning signs, and some symptoms are too subtle to notice. This silent epidemic is type 2 diabetes, and without diagnosis and treatment, it could progress with serious complications.
Diabetes is a condition in which the body doesn’t produce enough of the hormone insulin, which regulates how the body metabolizes food. There are two types of diabetes: In type 1, high blood sugar (glucose) levels occur because insulin-producing cells in the pancreas have been destroyed. This form of diabetes (also called “juvenile diabetes” because it can emerge as early as childhood) is not related to a person’s diet and exercise habits.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body’s cells become resistant to insulin produced, and there is a corresponding decrease in the amount of insulin produced by the pancreas.
Type 2 diabetes is usually hereditary; however, being overweight and having a sedentary lifestyle can increase the chance of developing diabetes at an earlier age. Type 2 diabetes used to only occur in adults, but today some children are developing type 2 diabetes earlier, corresponding to childhood obesity and inactivity. Certain ethnic groups—such as African American, Pacific Islander, Asian, Native American, and Latino—have higher incidences of diabetes.
Stephanie Decker, RN, a certified diabetes educator and manager of professional education and training at Scripps Whittier Diabetes Institute, says the most important thing is prevention and early detection.
“If you know you have a family history of diabetes, take steps now to reduce your risk. Prevention starts with being more active, eating healthy foods and smaller portions, and getting an annual check-up and blood sugar test," says Decker. "If you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, follow up every three months with your physician to review your medications, blood sugar results and lifestyle habits.”
Some of the symptoms of type 2 diabetes are not always obvious. Paying attention to changes in your body and telling your physician about areas of concern can help you stay healthy. Some of the warning signs of diabetes include:
- Frequent urination
- Increased thirst
- Unexplained weight loss
- Weakness and fatigue
- Numbness or tingling in hands, legs or feet
- Blurred vision
- Dry, itchy skin
- Frequent infections
- Slow healing of cuts and bruises
- In women, frequent yeast infections
You can decrease the chance of developing type 2 diabetes by making your health a top priority today. The sooner you take an active approach to eating healthy, exercising and maintaining a healthy weight, the lower your risk of developing diabetes.
“By the time someone is diagnosed with diabetes, the pancreas will have lost 50-80 percent of its ability to produce insulin,” says Decker. “It’s not just a blood sugar disease; it’s usually accompanied by high blood pressure and high fats, or lipids, in the blood. If this triple threat goes undetected, all three issues can cause health problems. As many as 50 percent of people already have complications by the time they are diagnosed with diabetes. This includes increased risk of eye, kidney or heart disease, stroke and circulation problems.”
If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, you'll need to combine a healthy diet and exercise with medication and regular blood sugar monitoring.
Some tips to stay healthy with diabetes include:
- See a registered dietitian and diabetes nurse to learn how to manage your diabetes
- Check your blood sugar levels as recommended by your physician so you know how medications, food and exercise affect your blood glucose. Keep records of your results.
- Review your blood sugar records with your physician every visit. Your physician will check an A1C blood test every 3 months: this test tells you what your blood sugar is averaging throughout the day over a 3-month time frame.
- Pay close attention to how foods affect your blood sugars, especially carbohydrates. Avoid foods high in salt, processed and fast foods, saturated and trans fats and foods high in sugar.
- Eat smaller portions, eat balanced meals and drink plenty of unsweetened liquids to maximize healthy weight and blood sugar levels.
- Plan ahead each week for meals focused on lean protein, vegetables, fruits and foods high in fiber.
- Get plenty of regular exercise to reduce blood sugar levels and maintain a healthy weight.
- Think proactively, stay informed, monitor your health and connect with support groups.