Many see the arrival of November as the beginning of the Holiday Season, but did you also know November is Diabetes Awareness Month? While many months herald awareness for important issues, diabetes is one of the most overlooked issues in the United States because it isn’t viewed as a comparable threat to things like cancer or abuse and it has no outward signs. But, diabetes is a silent killer that nearly 30 million Americans are fighting every day.
Diabetes is a disease in which your blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels are too high. Glucose comes from the foods you eat. Insulin is a hormone that helps the glucose get into your cells to give them energy. With diabetes, your body is either unable to naturally produce insulin or process it properly. This depends on which type of diabetes you have.
With “Type 1 Diabetes” your body does not make insulin whereas with “Type 2 Diabetes” your body does not make or use insulin well. There is also “Pre-Diabetes” which means that your blood sugar is higher than normal but not high enough to be called diabetes. Having pre-diabetes puts you at a higher risk of getting type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of this illness. Over time, having too much glucose in your blood can cause serious health conditions threatening to damage your vision, kidneys, and nerves as well as increasing your risk for stroke or heart disease. In serious cases people have had to have limbs removed as a result of diabetes wreaking havoc on their body.
Both types of diabetes have some of the same telltale warning signs.
Hunger and fatigue. Your body converts the food you eat into glucose that your cells use for energy. But your cells need insulin to bring the glucose in. If your body doesn’t make enough or any insulin, or if your cells resist the insulin your body makes, the glucose can’t get into them and you have no energy. This can make you more hungry and tired than usual.
Frequent Urinating and frequent thirst. The average person usually has to urinate between four and seven times in 24 hours, but people with diabetes may go a lot more because your body reabsorbs glucose as it passes through your kidneys. But when diabetes pushes your blood sugar up, your kidneys may not be able to bring it all back in. This causes the body to make more urine, and that takes fluids. Because you’re urinating so frequently, you can get very thirsty needing to rehydrate more than the average person. Another side effect of frequent urination and dehydration is that you may experience dry mouth often and have dry skin. These two issues, though they may seem minor, can be another sign that you may have diabetes or pre-diabetes.
Deteriorating vision. This is a serious red flag that also stems from the changing fluid levels in your body. Because your eyes are surrounded in fluid, the lenses can change shape and cause your vision to blur.
Slow healing wounds. If cuts or scrapes heal slower than the average person, this could be a sign that you have nerve damage caused by the effects of high blood sugar slowing down your blood flow making it harder for your body to naturally heal wounds.
Pain or numbness in limbs. This is a more serious sign that your blood flow has slowed and is not circulating to your nerves at a normal pace.
Other noteworthy symptoms are fluctuating weight and nausea or vomiting. It is a myth that weight gain is the only weight change that occurs with diabetes. While weight gain is a reason for alarm, weight loss also is a sign that you may have diabetes due to your body seeking stored energy wherever it can take from. Unplanned or unexplained fluctuation in weight is something that requires medical attention and can be a definite indicator of diabetes. Also, when your body resorts to burning fat or muscle to build energy it can create “ketones” which can make your stomach feel sick. (For a better understanding of ketones and the dangers of diabetic ketoacidosis visit this link: Web MD – Diabetic Ketoacidosis.)
The first step to prevention is to get tested for diabetes regularly. This can be done during your basic annual check ups, but should be done as soon as possible if you are experiencing any of the above described symptoms.
There are different types of tests for diabetes depending on your symptoms (or lack thereof). Even if you do not have symptoms, if you are over age 45 it is recommended that you get tested. When you spot diabetes early on you can avoid nerve damage, heart conditions and other damages caused by untreated diabetes.
Changing your lifestyle can prevent diabetes. Here are some great suggestions to help you discover what changes you need to make:
1) Exercise! Research shows that aerobic exercise and resistance training can help control diabetes. The greatest benefit comes from a fitness program that includes both.
2) Eat more fiber and whole grain foods. Foods high in fiber include fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains and nuts help reduce your risk of diabetes by improving your blood sugar control. Studies show that whole grains may reduce your risk of diabetes and help maintain blood sugar levels. Try making at least half your grains whole grains. Many foods made from whole grains come ready to eat, including various breads, pasta products and cereals. Look for the word “whole” on the package and among the first few items in the ingredient list.
3) Maintain a healthy weight. If you’re overweight, diabetes prevention may hinge on weight loss. Every pound you lose can improve your health, and you may be surprised by how much. Participants in one large medical study who lost a modest amount of weight and exercised regularly reduced the risk of developing diabetes by almost 60 percent. Don’t jump on diet fads though. Low-carb diets, the glycemic index diet or other diet fads may help you lose weight initially but their effectiveness at preventing diabetes isn’t known. By excluding or strictly limiting a particular food group, you may be giving up essential nutrients. Instead, make variety and portion control part of your healthy diet.
4) Get tested! If any members of your immediate family have diabetes or pre-diabetes, if you have any of the symptoms described above, or if you are over age 45 get tested today and annually or more frequently depending on the results.
Diabetes Treatment and Control
Diabetes is a serious disease that you cannot treat on your own. Your doctor will help you find a treatment plan suited for your diabetes. Depending on your level of diabetes, you may also need other medical professionals on your diabetes treatment team, including a foot doctor, nutritionist, eye doctor, and a diabetes specialist (called an endocrinologist).
Treatment for diabetes requires keeping close watch over your blood sugar levels (and keeping them at a goal set by your doctor) with a combination of medications, healthy diet and exercise. By paying close attention to your diet and following your doctors’ orders you can minimize or avoid dangerous and rapid changing blood sugar levels, which can require quick changes in medication dosages, especially insulin.
There are several medications and preventatives available for diabetes. If you discover you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, be sure to talk to your doctor about all available options and what is best for you. Take your medications as prescribed and keep detailed notes about the effects they may have on you to provide to your doctor each visit. Keeping the lines of communication open with your doctor is very important when fighting diabetes. Never stop taking a prescribed medication or stop following a strict diet your doctor has advised simply because you are feeling better.
The types of diabetes described in this blog only scratch the surface of information you need to know if you are diabetic or think you may be. It is urgent that you see a medical professional for a proper diagnosis, treatment and regular care. This blog is written to hopefully help those who may be questioning their health or learning when to start getting tested. Because November is Diabetes Awareness Month, we want to recognize the disease and risks involved and to share this awareness with our readers who may have concerns for themselves or a loved one. Diabetes is one of the leading natural killers among Americans today. Together, we can change that!