Health Risk: Diabetes

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According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA)(link opens in new window) , in 2012, 29.1 million Americans, or 9.3% of the population, have diabetes. Of the 29.1 million diagnosed, 21 million were diagnosed, and 8.1 million were undiagnosed. Every year 1.4 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes.

To understand whether you are at risk here’s some important information to understand.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is when your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high. Blood glucose is the main type of sugar found in your blood and your main source of energy. Glucose comes from the food you eat and is also made in your liver and muscles. Your blood carries glucose to all of your body’s cells to use for energy.

Your pancreas—an organ, located between your stomach and spine, that helps with digestion—releases a hormone it makes, called insulin, into your blood. Insulin helps your blood carry glucose to all your body’s cells. Sometimes your body doesn’t make enough insulin or the insulin doesn’t work the way it should. Glucose then stays in your blood and doesn’t reach your cells. Your blood glucose levels get too high and can cause diabetes or prediabetes.1

Different Types of Diabetes

The American Diabetes Association (ADA)(link opens in new window)  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.2 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

Gestational diabetes can occur among women around the 24th week of pregnancy. A diagnosis of gestational diabetes does not mean that you had diabetes before you conceived, or that you will have diabetes after giving birth. However, if you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes during pregnancy it is important to follow your doctor’s advice regarding blood glucose (blood sugar) levels.

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.3

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 areas that the American Diabetes Association recommends to help manage your diabetes.

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)

This is a good test to measure your blood glucose control over a period of a few months. The A1C test can help you manage your diabetes and:

  • Confirm self-testing results or blood test results by the doctor.
  • Judge whether a treatment plan is working.
  • Show you how healthy choices can make a difference in diabetes control.4

Have a regular 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 you do have diabetes, the American Diabetes Association recommends that you have an eye examination every year to ensure that you’re eyes are healthy.

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 for infection

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

It is always a good idea to be vaccinated against the flu as recommended by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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

The ADA reports that nearly 1 in 3 American adults has high blood pressure and 2 in 3 people with diabetes report having high blood pressure or take prescription medications to lower their blood pressure. To make sure your blood pressure is within a healthy range, it is important to see your doctor and have it checked. By maintaining and keeping your blood pressure low you can delay and help to prevent a heart attack or stroke.

Quit smoking

It is well established that smoking is bad for you. Being a smoker and having diabetes increases the relative risk of death and cardiovascular events by 50%i. There are many programs to help you stop smoking. If you smoke, see your doctor to find out which program may be the right one for you to help you quit smoking.

Know the Facts

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with diabetes, there are a number of resources available online to help you learn more such as the American Diabetes Association and the JDRF (formerly known as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) that provide a wealth of information to help patients and family members.

This information is for educational purposes only and does not replace treatment or advice from a healthcare professional. If you have questions, please talk with your doctor.

  • 1 National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, USA.gov
  • 2, 3, 4 The American Diabetes Assocation
  • i Relation of Smoking with Total Mortality and Cardiovascular Events Among Patients with Diabetes: A Meta-Analysis and Systematic Review, An Pan, Yeli Wang, Mohammad Talaei and Frank B. Hu, Circulation, August 26, 2015
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