Know Your Risks, Take Steps to Prevent Diabetes

by Super User

Not knowing you have diabetes may be the most dangerous part of the disease. Of the 30.3 million people in the United States with diabetes, 7.2 million, nearly 25 percent, don’t know they have it. Left untreated, the condition can lead to serious health problems including skin infections, numbness in your feet, blindness, kidney disease, stroke, and even death. Fortunately, by understanding and managing your risks for Type 2 diabetes, the most common kind, you can prevent or delay the disease’s onset and complications.

Diabetes is a condition where levels of blood glucose (sugar) rise higher than normal in your blood. Glucose is produced when sugars and starches in foods that you eat are broken down through digestion. The glucose goes into your bloodstream and with the help of insulin, a hormone that is made in your pancreas, it is transferred to your cells to provide energy. Without adequate levels of insulin, glucose remains in the bloodstream which can lead to serious problems over time.

The two types of diabetes reflect the reasons for improper insulin levels. With Type 1 diabetes, which is typically diagnosed in children and young adults, the body does not produce insulin at all. With Type 2 diabetes, the body does not respond to insulin properly. The pancreas goes from making extra insulin to not being able to make enough. With both types of diabetes, your body can’t keep blood glucose at normal levels. Too much blood glucose is called hyperglycemia; too little is called hypoglycemia.

Symptoms for diabetes can be mild and difficult to notice at first. Many people don’t realize they have Type 2 diabetes until they develop a more serious complication. Contact your doctor if you experience:

  • Weight loss without change in diet or exercise
  • Increased hunger/fatigue
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased frequency of urination
  • Wounds that don’t heal
  • Dry skin
  • Blurred vision

To diagnose diabetes, your doctor may have you go without eating for a period before taking a blood sample to measure the amount of glucose in your blood.

A few health and lifestyle factors may put you at higher risk for developing Type 2 diabetes. They include:

  • Family history of the disease
  • Age (the older you are the greater your risk)
  • Being male
  • History of gestational diabetes
  • History of heart disease or stroke
  • Depression
  • High blood pressure
  • Low level of HDL or “good” cholesterol or high level of triglycerides in your blood
  • Being inactive
  • Being overweight or obese

By addressing risk factors that you can change, you can lower your risk for developing Type 2 diabetes or its associated complications. Areas to target are losing weight (if you’re overweight), eating fewer calories and assuring that most of your intake is rich in nutrients, and increasing activity. Taking these steps, with guidance from your doctor, can also help you manage blood glucose levels after a diagnosis of diabetes. Because learning to manage blood sugar can be challenging, many people who are newly diagnosed with diabetes benefit from working with a nutrition specialist, taking part in a support group or having frequent consultations with their doctor.

Having a regular physical exam and working with your doctor to manage blood pressure, cholesterol and other diabetes risk factors is the best way to prevent or receive an early diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes. Knowing you’re at risk for the disease gives you the best opportunity to prevent or delay complications so you can lead a long and healthy life.

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