According to the CDC’s National Diabetes Statistics Report for 2020, in the United States alone, 34.2 million adults (10.5% of the US population) have diabetes, and 88 million people aged 18 years or older have prediabetes (34.5% of the US population).
Diabetes mellitus refers to a group of diseases that affect how your body uses blood sugar (glucose). Glucose is vital to your health because it’s an important source of energy for the cells that make up your muscles and tissues. It’s also your brain’s main source of fuel. Most of the food you eat is broken down into sugar (also called glucose) and released into your bloodstream. When your blood sugar goes up, it signals your pancreas to release insulin and it then acts like a key to let the blood sugar into your body’s cells for use as energy.
Glucose (sugar) and Insulin work together in the body to break down the food that you eat and turn it into energy for your body. Glucose is a source of energy (food) for the cells that make up muscles and other tissues. For your body to use the energy from glucose, Insulin is needed to circulate throughout your body to enable sugar to enter your cells. Insulin helps regulate your blood sugar, and in normal processes, when your glucose drops, so does the amount of insulin in your blood. When you have diabetes, your body doesn’t make enough insulin, or it can’t use insulin as well. When that happens, there is too much sugar that stays in your blood and that can lead to heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease to name a few.
Types of Diabetes
There are 3 types of Diabetes, type 1, type 2, or gestational but, no matter what type of diabetes you have, it can lead to excess sugar in your blood, which is dangerous and can even cause death. There is no cure for Diabetes 1 or 2 and the only potentially reversible diabetes conditions are prediabetes and gestational diabetes. One in three people in the United States has prediabetes and prediabetes is often the precursor of diabetes. Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy but may resolve after the baby is delivered.
In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin. Type 1 diabetes can develop at any age, though it often appears during childhood or adolescence. The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown. What is known is that your immune system — which normally fights harmful bacteria or viruses — attacks and destroys your insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. This leaves you with little or no insulin. Instead of being transported into your cells, sugar builds up in your bloodstream. Type 1 is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic susceptibility and environmental factors, though exactly what those factors are is still unclear. Weight is not believed to be a factor in type 1 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes—and it means that your body doesn’t use insulin properly. About 90-95% of people with diabetes have type 2. It can develop at any age, though it’s more common in people older than 40. In type 2 diabetes, your cells become resistant to insulin, and your pancreas is unable to make enough insulin to overcome this resistance. Instead of moving into your cells where it’s needed for energy, sugar builds up in your bloodstream. Why this happens is not fully known, and although being overweight is strongly linked to the development of type 2 diabetes, not everyone with type 2 is overweight.
Certain risk factors increase the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes, including:
- Weight. The more fat tissue you have, the more resistant your cells become to insulin.
- Inactivity. The less active you are, the greater your risk. Physical activity helps you control your weight, uses up glucose as energy, and makes your cells more sensitive to insulin.
- Family history. Your risk increases if a parent or sibling has type 2 diabetes.
- Gestational diabetes. If you developed gestational diabetes when you were pregnant, your risk of developing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes increases. If you gave birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds, you’re also at risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome. Having polycystic ovary syndrome increases the risk of diabetes.
- High blood pressure. Having blood pressure over 140/90 is linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels. If you have low levels of HDL, “good,” cholesterol, or high levels of triglycerides, you have an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
Long-term complications of Diabetes
High blood sugar damages organs and tissues throughout your body. The higher your blood sugar is and the longer you live with it, the greater your risk for complications that could be disabling or even life-threatening.
- Heart disease, heart attack, and stroke: If you have diabetes, you’re more likely to have heart disease or stroke.
- Neuropathy: Excess sugar can injure the walls of the capillaries of your nerves, typically causing tingling, numbness, burning, or pain that usually begins at the tips of the toes or fingers and spreads upward.
- Nephropathy: Diabetes can damage the filtering system of the kidneys. Severe damage can lead to kidney failure or irreversible end-stage kidney disease.
- Retinopathy and vision loss: Diabetes can lead to blindness by damaging the blood vessels of the retina, and it also increases the risk of cataracts and glaucoma.
- Foot damage: Infections and sores that don’t heal can lead to toe, foot, or leg amputation.
- Dementia: The poorer your blood sugar control, the greater the risk appears to be, although it is not yet fully known how they are connected.
How can you avoid or manage Diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes can’t be prevented but healthy eating is a central part of preventing or managing type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes, and pre-diabetes. Eating well and adding physical activity to your daily routine is an important step. Remember, when you’re active, your cells become more sensitive to insulin so it works more effectively. If you are overweight, just 30 minutes of exercise a day, five days a week, can help you on your way to losing 5% to 7% of your body weight, which can make a significant impact on your health! It is also very important to eat healthy, cutting out saturated and trans fats, instead choosing foods lower in fat and calories and higher in fiber. Focus on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
If you’re at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, or you have been diagnosed with diabetes, it’s important to have regular checkups. Our Med First Healthcare Providers can help you do many things to manage or prevent diabetes. They can help you with an exercise and nutritional plan, as well as prescribe and manage any medications that may be needed. They will also order the necessary bloodwork, like an A1c and fasting glucose levels to measure your blood sugar levels. It may also be necessary to help you get home blood sugar meters as well as teach you all about your target blood sugar levels for different times of the day and how to manage high or low blood sugar. There is so much to learn about, managing or preventing diabetes, so come see us, and let’s get started!
Whatever you may need, Med First can help! Whether you have been to one of our locations before, or are a new patient in need of an appointment, Med First is here for now and here for life! We accept new patients at all locations and offer same-day visits for many needs. We offer easy and fast self-scheduling options as well as a call center!
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