Insulin is a hormone that the body needs to break down sugars and starches from foods and turn them into energy to help you function throughout the day. Diabetes mellitus is a disease in which the body doesn’t properly use or make insulin, therefore causing blood sugar levels to be high. High blood sugar levels in turn can cause extensive damage to many important organ systems in the body. We know that certain factors like genetics, obesity, and lack of exercise play a key role in the development of the disease. It is estimated that 7.8 % of the American population (23.6 million people) are diabetic. There are different types of diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is the primary type of diabetes in children and young adults. This type of diabetes is caused by a disorder of the body’s pancreas gland that affects its ability to make insulin. Type 1 diabetes must be closely managed by a health care professional through insulin replacement. Type 1 diabetes accounts for 5-10 % of all cases of this disease.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes and is mostly found in adults. Type 2 diabetes is related to insulin resistance that causes a relative insulin deficiency. Insulin resistance is a condition that results from the body’s failure to appropriately use the insulin that it makes and is closely related to being overweight. Most Americans diagnosed with the disease have Type 2 diabetes (95 %).
Some important risk factors for the development of Type 2 diabetes include:
- Being overweight
- Leading a sedentary lifestyle
- Being over 30 years of age
- Being African American, Hispanic, or American Indian
- Giving birth to a baby that weighs over 9 pounds
- Having a family member who has diabetes
- Having blood pressure readings 130/90 or higher
- Having high cholesterol
There is also a condition known as pre-diabetes, which affects another 56 million Americans. A person with pre-diabetes has blood sugar levels that are slightly higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. This is a likely precursor to diabetes and causes health risks as well.
Regardless of what type of diabetes a person may have, the end result is that not enough sugar gets into the body’s cells to be used as an energy source throughout the day, and too much sugar circulates in the blood. This causes damage to critical parts of important body cells. Symptoms may or may not occur early on.
The most common symptoms of diabetes are:
- Frequent urination
- Excessive thirst
- Unexplained weight loss
- Blurred vision
- Possibly recurrent or persistent infections (especially wound infections)
If this disease undiagnosed and uncontrolled, risk is increased for heart disease, kidney disease, eye problems, skin problems, nerve problems, circulation issues, and persistent or uncontrolled infections. The sooner the disease is diagnosed and the blood sugars reduced to normal, the lower these risks.
There are several blood tests used to diagnose diabetes. The most common test is a fasting blood glucose (sugar) level. A fasting blood sugar level of 105 to 125 signals pre-diabetes. A fasting blood sugar above 125 indicates a diagnosis of diabetes. Your health care provider may do additional tests if your blood sugar is above this level.
Frequently, adults with diabetes have other health issues like high blood pressure and high cholesterol. When these medical conditions are combined with diabetes, they can lead to serious life-threatening health issues such as early heart attacks. By managing diabetes, patients can lessen the overall risk of heart disease and circulatory problems.
Our first goal at Family Medicine Associates is prevention. Prevention must start at a very young age. Recent studies suggest that there is an obesity epidemic in our country that starts in childhood. If a child is overweight or obese, his or her long-term risk for developing Type 2 diabetes is much greater and might even occur in adolescence or young adulthood.
Here are some simple diabetes prevention guidelines for both children and adults:
- Increase physical activity and exercise and decrease sedentary activity like TV and video games.
- Improve diet quality by following the food guide pyramid and consuming appropriate portions (discourage “super sizing”!)
- Limit sweetened beverages including soft drinks, fruit juices, and sports/energy drinks.
- Take steps to manage weight.
- Take steps to reduce stress.
- Schedule more family mealtimes to improve nutrition as well as encourage communication.
Management of diabetes always starts with limiting and spreading out sugar and starch intake in the diet, along with achieving ideal weight goals and maintaining a regular exercise program. Then, depending on how close the blood sugar level is to a normal level, medication might be suggested to either help the body cells use insulin better, or to release more insulin into the system. If there is not enough insulin, then your health care professional will likely suggest insulin shots to control the blood sugars. With close attention to following this program, it is very possible to live a long, healthy, and normal life with diabetes.
For more information regarding diabetes, please contact your FMA health care provider.