Diabetes is a group of diseases that disrupt how the body utilizes blood sugar (glucose), a vital source of energy for our cells and the brain. When diabetes is left unmanaged, it can lead to serious health complications.
November is Diabetes Awareness Month, a time dedicated to shedding light on this complex and prevalent condition that affects millions of people worldwide. Northwest Specialty Hospital, like any healthcare facility, has many diabetes patients, which affects nearly 10% of the US population. As healthcare providers, we aim to help our patients adopt lifestyle changes that can prevent diabetes, diagnose this condition as early as possible, and help them manage it so they can continue to experience a high quality of life.
Types of Diabetes
There are several forms of diabetes, and the most common are designated simply as Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 typically manifests in childhood or adolescence but can affect individuals at any age. It is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, leading to decreased insulin levels in the body. Insulin is a hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar levels, allowing glucose to enter cells, and lowering blood sugar in the bloodstream.
Type 2 diabetes is more prevalent than Type 1 diabetes. It most often develops in adulthood, though it is increasingly diagnosed in younger individuals. In Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas still produces insulin, but it either doesn’t produce enough or the body doesn’t utilize it effectively. As a result, there is excess sugar in the blood, which can result in a range of health complications.
Prediabetes and gestational diabetes are two other forms. Prediabetes is diagnosed when elevated blood sugar levels are detected, but not to the extent of a diabetes diagnosis. If left unmanaged, prediabetes can progress to full-blown diabetes. Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy and can resolve after childbirth. However, it is essential to monitor and manage it to ensure the health of both the mother and baby.
Symptoms To Watch Out For
The symptoms of diabetes may vary and will depend on the type of diabetes and the severity of the condition. Some individuals, especially those with prediabetes, Type 2 diabetes, or gestational diabetes, may not experience any noticeable symptoms, while Type 1 often presents with significant symptoms. Symptoms for diabetes may include:
- Excessive thirst
- Frequent urination
- Unexplained weight loss
- The presence of ketones in the urine
- Fatigue and weakness
- Mood changes, such as irritability
- Blurred vision
- Slow-healing sores
- Increased susceptibility to infections
It’s crucial to remember that early diagnosis is vital to effective management and prevention of complications. If you suspect you or a loved one may have diabetes, it’s essential to consult a healthcare provider for proper evaluation and diagnosis. Diabetes is diagnosed through a blood test.
Causes of Diabetes
Understanding the causes of diabetes involves grasping how the body normally utilizes glucose and insulin. Glucose, derived from food and produced by the liver, is the primary energy source for cells throughout the body. Insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas, facilitates the transfer of glucose from the bloodstream into cells, thereby regulating blood sugar levels.
The precise causes of these conditions are not entirely clear, but they typically involve a combination of genetic and environmental factors. For example, if someone in your immediate family has Type 1 diabetes, there is a greater likelihood that you may also have it. Type 1 diabetes is most often detected in children, teens, and young adults.
For Type 2 diabetes, family history may also play a role. People of Black, Hispanic, American Indian, and Asian American descent are at a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes. Additionally, being overweight or having obesity significantly increases the risk of developing prediabetes, Type 2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes.
Prevention and Management
Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented, but it can be managed. For Type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes, there are proactive steps individuals can take to manage and potentially prevent it. Here are some strategies:
- Healthy Eating: Opt for foods that are lower in fat and calories. Add more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes to your diet. Prioritizing a variety of foods will help you keep your meals interesting.
- Regular Exercise: An exercise regimen that includes 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity several days each week will help. If time is a constraint, break it into shorter sessions throughout the day. Even a brisk daily walk can make a substantial difference.
- Weight Management: If you are overweight, losing any amount of excess weight can significantly reduce your risk of developing diabetes.
Bear in mind that weight loss during pregnancy should be approached with caution. If you are pregnant, consult your healthcare provider to determine a healthy weight gain during pregnancy; your obstetrician will look for signs of gestational diabetes to ensure that you have a healthy pregnancy.
While lifestyle modifications are essential, some individuals with prediabetes may also benefit from medications, but lifestyle choices remain fundamental.
If left unmanaged, diabetes often leads to a range of long-term complications, including heart disease, kidney problems, nerve damage, and eye issues. Some diabetes complications can become life-threatening. Therefore, early diagnosis and effective management are crucial.
Diabetes Awareness Month serves as a reminder of the importance of understanding this condition. Diabetes can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or background, and its prevalence is on the rise. By recognizing the symptoms, causes, risk factors, and prevention strategies, we can work together to ensure a healthier future.
If you are experiencing symptoms consistent with diabetes or if you have some of the risk factors associated with diabetes, talk to your healthcare provider at Northwest Specialty Hospital. Early intervention and lifestyle changes can make a significant difference in managing and potentially preventing diabetes. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call NWSH today.