Health Risk: Diabetes

June 21, 2009

Glucometer

Nearly 24% of people with diabetes don't know they have it. Find out if you're at risk and how you can manage the condition.

More than 24 million Americans have diabetes and another 57 million are at risk. By setting goals, you can stay on track in managing your diabetes risk.

Know Your Blood Sugar

In diabetes, blood sugar (glucose) in the bloodstream has trouble entering the body's cells where it can be used to provide energy — so it's important to keep your blood sugar as close to normal levels as possible.

High levels of glucose in the blood (hyperglycemia) accounts for most of the symptoms of diabetes and complications associated with diabetes such as heart disease (cardiovascular disease), blindness (retinopathy), nerve damage (neuropathy), and kidney damage (nephropathy).

Different Types of Diabetes

Diabetes may affect your body differently depending on the type of diabetes you have. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) defines the following types of diabetes:

Type 1

Previously known as juvenile diabetes, Type 1 is usually diagnosed in children and young adults. The body does not produce insulin, which is the hormone needed to convert glucose, starches, and other food into energy.

Type 2

The most common form of diabetes. The body either does not produce enough insulin or the cells do not use the insulin. The body breaks down the sugar and starches into glucose. Insulin is needed to take glucose from the blood into the cells where it can be used by the body for fuel.

Gestational diabetes

Occurs immediately after pregnancy.

Pre–diabetes

When a person's blood glucose is higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, he or she is diagnosed with pre–diabetes. According to the ADA, before people develop Type 2 diabetes, they almost always have "pre–diabetes" and recent research has shown that some long–term damage to the body, especially the heart and circulatory system, may already be occurring during pre–diabetes. Research has shown that taking action to manage your blood glucose can delay or even prevent Type 2 diabetes from developing.

Reduce Your Risk

If you have diabetes, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk and meet the most important goal of living a long and healthy life. In addition to your doctor and other healthcare providers, make your family and friends part of your team to help you take control of diabetes. It may seem like a lot of work, but it's worth the effort.

Here are some tips to reducing your risk:

Follow your meal and medication plan

It is very important to take any medications as directed by your doctor. Work closely with your doctor and a dietitian to design a meal plan that maintains near–normal blood glucose levels. Make sure you eat meals and snacks at the same time each day, don't skip meals or snacks, and keep the amount and types of food (carbs, fats, and proteins) consistent from day to day.

Get active

Exercise helps improve blood glucose management and makes your body more sensitive to the insulin you make, lowering blood glucose levels. Find out more benefits of activity at the ADA Website

Know your A1C (glycosylated hemoglobin level) and have it tested at least annually

This is a good test to measure your blood glucose control over a period of a few months. Your goal should be seven percent or less. Lowering your A1C by any amount can reduce your risk of diabetic complications.

Have a regular diabetic eye exam done

Your eye care doctor can identify and treat problems early. Retinopathy, the most common form of diabetic eye disease, can have no symptoms in its early stages, but it can lead to blindness as diabetes damages blood vessels in the retina. If there is no sign of any diabetic eye disease, you should have your eyes examined every other year. This is done by a doctor looking with a light to the back of your eyes or by taking photographs of the back of your eye to be sent to a specialist. But if you have any eye disease and have diabetes, you need an examination once a year.

Have your cholesterol checked

Especially your Low Density Lipids (LDL) or "bad cholesterol" – talk with your doctor about keeping it less than 100. For people with diabetes, excess blood sugar attaches onto LDL particles, causing them to stay in the blood longer. The LDL then builds up on the artery walls, restricting blood flow to the heart over time and increasing the risk for a heart attack or stroke.

Check your feet daily for cuts and sores

Ask your doctor to examine them at each visit. High blood sugar can damage the blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients to your legs and feet causing poor circulation, nerve damage, foot deformities, and infections. Talk to your doctor about healthy foot care habits and any foot problems or changes immediately.

Talk to your doctor about an annual kidney function test

High levels of blood sugar make the kidneys filter too much blood which is hard on them. Over time, this extra work can cause them to start to leak substances such as protein. Your doctor can monitor your kidney function and the protein amounts in your urine to identify and treat any problems early.

Get vaccinated annually against the flu

Consider getting both the seasonal shot and the shot for the H1N1 (swine) flu this year.

Talk to your doctor about a pneumonia vaccine

You can get this shot anytime during the year. Usually one shot is needed, but another shot 5–10 years after the first maybe recommended by your doctor.

Get regular blood pressure checks

Increased blood pressure causes your heart to work harder to pump the body's blood. People with hypertension and diabetes have nearly twice the risk of cardiovascular disease as those with hypertension only, but by following the treatment and medication plan prescribed by your doctor you can reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke. For most diabetics, a blood pressure of 130/80 is goal.

Quit smoking

People with diabetes who smoke are three times as likely to die of cardiovascular disease as are other people with diabetes. Find out more at the ADA Website.

See your doctor regularly even when you're feeling healthy and discuss your diabetes management goals with him or her.

Know the Facts

Log in to MyHumana, your secure Website on Humana.com, and visit Humana's Diabetes Condition Center, an online source of self–management and educational tools, and links to other diabetes sites.

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