Despite nationwide efforts to reduce sugar intake and increase activity, diabetes rates continue to increase nationwide. About 8 percent of Vermonters have diabetes, nearly double the rate of 20 years ago. About 16,000 Vermonters are unaware that they have the condition. Like hypertension and hyperlipidemia, diabetes is yet another illness that often goes undetected.
This blog is the last in a series of three posts about chronic illness prevention in young adults.
Diabetes is a serious chronic health condition characterized by impairment in your body’s ability to effectively use sugar (glucose) for energy. Diabetes involves the disruption of insulin, the hormone that transports glucose into the body’s cells.
There are two main types of diabetes – Type 1 and Type 2.
Type 1 diabetes is caused by the body’s inability to produce enough insulin, resulting in consistently high glucose levels in the blood. This condition is considered an autoimmune disease, in which the body has destroyed insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. It often occurs in children and young adults and is not caused by diet and activity.
By contrast, Type 2 diabetes is caused by the body’s resistance to insulin in addition to insufficient production. In other words, insulin is not consistently able to enter body cells, resulting in excess free-floating glucose. Type 2 diabetes is a result of genetics, physical inactivity, diet, and obesity.
When the body is functioning normally, the insulin that it produces can effectively manage the amount of glucose in your blood. If untreated, diabetes leads to high blood sugar levels resulting in toxic effects on the heart, nerves, and eyes. When someone has diabetes, they may have to take extra medication and/or insulin which can lead to episodes of low blood sugar. It is a delicate balancing act.
Symptoms of diabetes can be mild and the illness often goes untreated for a long time. Typical symptoms include:
- Urinating often
- Feeling very thirsty
- Feeling very hungry – even though you are eating
- Extreme fatigue
- Blurry vision
- Cuts/bruises that are slow to heal
- Weight loss – even though you are eating more (Type 1)
- Tingling, pain, or numbness in the hands/feet (Type 2)
How do I check for pre-diabetes or diabetes?
If your blood pressure is typically over 135/80 or if your body mass index (BMI) is over 25, you should be tested for diabetes more regularly.
The screen for diabetes involves taking a very small blood sample from a fingertip and checking blood sugar. Your doctor may take a sample of blood for a Random (Casual) Plasma Glucose test, which can be taken any time. A result of more than 200 mg/dl indicates a diagnosis of diabetes. Your doctor may also suggest a Fasting Plasma Glucose (FPG), which requires that you not eat or drink anything for 8 hours before the test.
If screening tests indicate diabetes, follow-up tests such as those that assess the severity of diabetes (Hemoglobin A1C) and provide information about how your body processes sugar (Oral Glucose Tolerance Test) may be required. An A1C result of 5.7 to 6.4 percent indicates “prediabetes”. It is important to make significant lifestyle changes to delay the progression of the illness.
What happens if I don’t watch for diabetes? Diabetes causes health problems by damaging tiny blood vessels, resulting in vision problems, hypertension, poor healing, and loss of sensation in feet leading to amputation. Diabetes is also associated with an increased risk of stroke and heart attack.
Further, diabetes shortens life expectancy by 15 years.
According to the American Diabetes Association, lowering your weight by 7 percent (15 pounds if you weigh 200 pounds) may reduce your risk of developing diabetes by 58 percent. Once you are considered diabetic, the illness is chronic and cannot be cured – only managed.
Similar to the recommendations in previous blogs on hypertension and high cholesterol, the best way to prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes is by maintaining an active lifestyle and balanced diet. Your diet should be low in “simple sugars” like candy, soda, fruit juice and white carbohydrates (white bread, pasta, and flour) in favor of whole wheat-based complex carbohydrates.
Timely screenings are the best way to assess your diabetes risk. Seeing a doctor for an annual physical is the best way to keep tabs on your diabetes risk. Make an appointment for your annual visit today!
Mike Reynolds is an LNA Nurse Extern with Community Health Improvement at the University of Vermont Medical Center. He is currently a senior in the BSN program at UVM.