Diabetes is a chronic health condition that affects people of all ages. In the past 20 years, the number of adults diagnosed with the condition has more than doubled with people developing diabetes at younger ages, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Today, it is estimated that more than 37 million adults in the United States have diabetes.
Diabetes affects how your body converts food into energy. When you eat, the food is broken down into sugar, specifically glucose, which is released into your bloodstream. When your blood sugar goes up, your pancreas releases insulin to help your body process the blood sugar into energy.
With diabetes, your body either doesn’t produce insulin to keep those blood sugar levels at healthy levels – that’s Type 1 diabetes – or your body doesn’t use the insulin it does produce very well – that’s Type 2 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes
It is unknown how to prevent Type 1 diabetes and there is no cure, unfortunately. It is believed to be caused by an autoimmune reaction that destroys your insulin-producing pancreatic cells. People with Type 1 diabetes have to take insulin daily to survive. If you have a family history of Type 1 diabetes, you are at risk for the disease at any age, but it usually presents in children, teens and young adults.
Type 1 diabetes symptoms include:
- Frequent urination at night
- Increased thirst
- Loss of weight without trying
- Increased appetite
- Blurry vision
- Tingling or numb feet or hands
- Increased fatigue
Diabetes symptoms may also include nausea, vomiting or stomach pains. These symptoms may seem similar to symptoms of other health conditions, so it’s important to see your healthcare provider to have your blood sugar tested and rule out diabetes.
If diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, you’ll mostly manage the condition by taking insulin shots or wearing an insulin pump, because insulin is needed to manage blood sugar. Healthcare providers will assist you, too. Often, a diabetes care team will include a primary care doctor, an eye doctor, a diabetes educator and a nutritionist and sometimes an endocrinologist who specializes in diabetes care. Regular blood sugar checks are a must. Eating healthy foods, being active, reducing stress – these lifestyle choices also can improve quality of life.
Type 2 diabetes
People with Type 2 diabetes don’t process insulin normally and eventually become insulin resistant. Insulin resistance means that the pancreas is overworking to produce enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels in check but simply can’t keep up. As a result, blood sugar levels rise to and stay at unhealthy levels. Over time, high blood sugar levels can cause health complications, such as heart disease, kidney disease and vision loss. Type 2 diabetes usually presents in people older than 45, but more younger people are developing the condition.
Prediabetes, or regular higher blood sugar levels than normal, may develop into Type 2 diabetes if left unaddressed. It can take years to develop Type 2 diabetes, and it can be difficult to detect symptoms. Talk to your healthcare provider about including blood sugar testing as part of your regular blood work and annual check-ups, especially if you are overweight, older than 45, have a family history of Type 2 diabetes, and/or do not exercise regularly.
The good news is that it is possible to prevent or delay Type 2 diabetes from developing with lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, eating healthy and exercising regularly.
If diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, in addition to the aforementioned lifestyle changes, other things you can do to self-manage the condition is to take your prescribed medication, see your healthcare provider regularly to get the education and support you need, and maintain regular healthcare appointments so that any changes in the disease or your health do not go unnoticed.