What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a disease in which the body is unable to properly use and store glucose (a form of sugar). Glucose backs up in the bloodstream — causing one’s blood glucose (sometimes referred to as blood sugar) to rise too high. There are two major types of diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the body completely stops producing any insulin, a hormone that enables the body to use glucose found in foods for energy. People with type 1 diabetes must take daily insulin injections to survive. This form of diabetes usually develops in children or young adults, but can occur at any age. Type 2 diabetes results when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin and/or is unable to use insulin properly (insulin resistance). This form of diabetes usually occurs in people who are over 40, overweight, and have a family history of diabetes, although today it is increasingly occurring in younger people, particularly adolescents.
What are the Symptoms of Diabetes?
People with diabetes frequently experience certain symptoms. These include:
- being very thirsty
- frequent urination
- weight loss
- increased hunger
- blurry vision
- tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
- frequent skin, bladder or gum infections
- wounds that don't heal
- extreme unexplained fatigue
In some cases, there are no symptoms — this happens at times with type 2 diabetes. In this case, people can live for months, even years without knowing they have the disease. This form of diabetes comes on so gradually that symptoms may not even be recognized.
Diabetes can occur in anyone. However, people who have close relatives with the disease are somewhat more likely to develop it. Other risk factors include obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and physical inactivity. The risk of developing diabetes also increases as people grow older. People who are over 40 and overweight are more likely to develop diabetes, although the incidence of type 2 diabetes in adolescents is growing. Diabetes is more common among Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders. Also, people who develop diabetes while pregnant (a condition called gestational diabetes) are more likely to develop full-blown diabetes later in life.
- Over 29 million people in the US, or 9,3% of the population have diabetes
- 86 million people have prediabetes
- Almost 20,000 children are diagnosed with diabetes per year
- Almost 30% of people with diabetes are undiagnosed
- 15-30% of those with prediabetes will develop type 2 diabetes within 5 years
- Risk of death for adults with diabetes is 50% higher than for those without
Treatments for Diabetes
Everyone who has diabetes should be seen at least once every six months by a diabetes specialist. He or she should also be seen periodically by other members of a diabetes treatment team, including a diabetes nurse educator, and a dietitian who will help develop a meal plan for the individual. Ideally, one should also see an exercise physiologist for help in developing a physical activity plan, and, perhaps, a social worker, psychologist or other mental health professional for help with the stresses and challenges of living with a chronic disease.
Also, people with diabetes need to learn how to monitor their blood glucose. Daily testing will help determine how well their meal plan, activity plan, and medication are working to keep blood glucose levels in a normal range.