Diabetes is a condition in which the body’s pancreas is not able to produce enough insulin to metabolize glucose, or in which the body is resistant to insulin, resulting in elevated blood glucose levels.
November is Diabetes Awareness Month in the U.S., and on November 14th countries around the world observe World Diabetes Day. More than 34 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, and nearly 90 million people have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes. Here’s what you need to know about this condition that affects so many people.
1) There are two main types of diabetes.
The two main types of diabetes are Type 1 and Type 2. Both types of diabetes result in elevated blood glucose levels. In the short run, elevated blood glucose causes excessive thirst, excessive urination, blurry vision, weight loss, and fatigue. Over time, elevated blood glucose can damage the heart, brain, blood vessels, nerves, kidneys, and eyes.
Type 1 diabetes, which was sometimes formerly called “juvenile diabetes” or “insulin-dependent diabetes”, is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks cells in the pancreas so they’re no longer able to produce insulin. Without insulin, the body can’t properly metabolize or store glucose. While Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age, it’s most commonly diagnosed in children and young adults.
Type 2 diabetes happens when tissues throughout the body become resistant to insulin, forcing the pancreas to produce more and more insulin in an attempt to overcome the resistance. Eventually, the pancreas is unable to keep up with the increased insulin demand, and blood glucose levels rise to unhealthy levels. Type 2 diabetes is much more common than Type 1, accounting for more than 90% of all cases of diabetes in the U.S.
2) Certain risk factors increase the risk of Type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is a chronic, incurable condition that is not yet well-understood. But from what researchers know so far, genetics play a big role in this condition. Patients with a parent or sibling with Type 1 diabetes have an increased risk of developing diabetes. If both parents have Type 1 diabetes, their child has a 25% increased risk of being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, too.
In addition to genetics, geography is another risk factor. The farther from the equator people live, the higher their risk of developing Type 1 diabetes is (though researchers don’t yet understand why.)
Also, there tend to be two peaks of the disease in childhood. Most children diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes are between ages 4-7, or ages 10-14.
3) Other risk factors increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Multiple factors affect your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. The most common risk factor is being overweight or obese. In fact, 90% of people who are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes have a BMI of 25 or higher.
Other risk factors include a family history of the disease, being age 45 or older, having hypertension (high blood pressure), being sedentary, and having a history of gestational diabetes (elevated blood sugar during pregnancy.)
People who are Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islander, Asian American, and African American also have higher rates of Type 2 diabetes.
4) Various medications are available to treat diabetes.
Fortunately, an array of medications are available to treat diabetes.
Insulin is the mainstay of type 1 diabetes treatment. It can also be used in patients with severe Type 2 diabetes when oral medications don’t adequately lower their blood glucose.
Some diabetes medications delay the absorption of carbohydrates, which can prevent spikes in blood glucose levels. Others stimulate the pancreas to release more insulin. And another medication called Metformin increases the body’s sensitivity to insulin and decreases the amount of sugar absorbed by the intestines.
5) Lifestyle modifications can help, too.
When it comes to Type 1 diabetes, patients can reduce complications of the disease by closely monitoring their blood glucose levels and taking the appropriate amount of insulin. Also, reducing the intake of simple carbohydrates can prevent harmful blood glucose spikes.
Patients with Type 2 diabetes can also improve their blood glucose by minimizing their intake of simple carbohydrates. Weight loss and exercise can also lower the complications of Type 2 diabetes. Cherries are one of many summer fruits to eat that are filled with antioxidants and help protect against diabetes. In some cases, patients have been able to reverse the condition and eliminate the need for any medication when they made healthy lifestyle changes. If you ever wondered, what do they do at a physical for a man, then checking for type 2 diabetes is one of them.
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Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant