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Diabetes on the Rise – Prevention Strategies

In the last 20 years, the number of adults diagnosed with diabetes has more than doubled, but it can be surprisingly difficult to detect – according to the CDC, 1 in 5 US adults has it but doesn’t know it. Warning signs can be mild, and often some of the most harmful effects of high blood sugar like nerve damage or vision loss are the first thing to bring diabetic patients into the office. Fortunately though, early blood sugar testing, nutrition management and medication can decrease the risk of diabetes complications.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects how your body converts food into energy during digestion. When digestion occurs with no complications, most of the food you eat is turned into a simple sugar, or glucose, and released to your bloodstream for use in the body. In response to the release of glucose, your pancreas issues the hormone insulin. That insulin is the sign your body needs to allow the blood sugar into your body’s cells to convert to energy.

If you’re diabetic, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or use its existing supply effectively, and your blood sugar can’t enter your cells as it needs to. Over time, that glucose with nowhere to go builds up in the bloodstream, causing health problems like heart disease, vision loss and kidney disease. There’s no cure for diabetes, but doctors can detect it with blood sugar testing.

With a few exceptions, there are three main types of diabetes:

  • Type 1: An autoimmune reaction that prevents your body from making insulin. 5-10% of people who have diabetes have type 1, and though it can start at any age, it’s usually diagnosed in children and teenagers.
  • Type 2: Your body doesn’t use insulin well and can’t regulate glucose levels. 90-95% of diabetics have this type. It’s usually diagnosed in adults, and can be delayed or even prevented with changes to diet and physical activity levels.
  • Gestational: Diabetes during pregnancy. It usually doesn’t show any symptoms and goes away after childbirth, but increases your chance of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. If you’re pregnant, your doctor should test you for gestational diabetes between 24-28 weeks into your pregnancy.

Signs and Symptoms

Diabetes can go undetected for years without many clear symptoms. If you or your child experience any of the following, you may be at risk for type 1 or type 2 diabetes:

  • Urinating much more often, especially at night
  • Thirst or hunger, even though you’re eating and drinking
  • Un-planned weight loss
  • Blurry vision
  • Numb or tingling hands or feet
  • Fatigue or sleepiness
  • Very dry skin
  • Sores, cuts or bruises that heal slowly
  • More infections than usual

For type 2 diabetics, these symptoms can appear after blood sugar has been high for a longer period of time:

  • Yeast infections, regardless of gender. Yeast feeds on glucose, and it can be especially active among folds of skin like between your fingers and toes, under your breasts and in or around sex organs.
  • Slow-healing sores or cuts. High blood sugar affects blood flow and causes nerve damage, which leads to a lengthened healing process for the body.
  • Pain or numbness in your feet or legs, another result of nerve damage.

A few other risk factors for developing diabetes include:

  • A family history of diabetes or pre-diabetes, especially for your parents and siblings
  • Having gestational diabetes or giving birth to a child weighing more than 9 pounds
  • A history of heart disease or stroke, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels or polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Insulin resistance, a risk factor for diabetes that occurs when your cells don’t respond well to insulin and can’t take in glucose from your bloodstream
  • Pre-diabetes, elevated blood sugar levels that can become diabetes if left untreated

Preventing Diabetes

Unfortunately, researchers don’t fully understand what causes diabetes, but for type 2, excess weight and lack of physical activity are major factors. You can train cells to become more efficient at absorbing blood sugar by engaging in what scientists call “insulin-sensitive activities.” Other than reducing stress and ensuring to get proper sleep:

  • Get active. Physical activity makes your body more sensitive to insulin, so be sure to get in a brisk 30 minute walk 5 days a week. If that sounds daunting, remember that any movement is better than no movement. No need to run a marathon — start small and work your way up.
  • Eat clean. Incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet and stay away from processed, pre-packaged foods as much as you can.
  • Lose weight (with a plan). Weight certainly isn’t the only indicator of health, but belly fat can play a harmful role in diabetes development. In addition to serving as energy storage, fat cells generate hormones and other substances that can contribute to longterm inflammation in the body, which can play a major role in type 2 diabetes. Research demonstrates that losing 5 to 7% of your body weight can lower the risk for diabetes, but if you plan to lose weight, do so slowly through healthy nutritional substitutions and manageable increases in activity levels, not a quick fix diet.
  • Get tested. Ask your doctor about a blood sugar test. Doctors recommend a test at the age of 45 regardless of medical history, and if you have other risk factors, be sure to get tested every 3 years.

If you have diabetes or are looking to get tested, Riverside’s Comprehensive Diabetes Center at our Brockton Avenue location can provide the guidance you need for diagnosis or disease management. Riverside Medical Clinic also offers endocrinology services at four of our locations, but any of our physicians can help you find the right specialist. Schedule an appointment or give us our Diabetes Center a call at (951) 782-6236 to learn more.