Diabetes mellitus, called “sugar diabetes” by non-health care professionals, refers to a disease of the pancreas, an organ located behind the stomach that is responsible for producing insulin. Diabetes affects how the body uses blood glucose (sugar), specifically diabetes prevents the body from properly using sugar because of problems with the hormone insulin and/or the muscles response to insulin. The role of insulin is to lower blood sugar levels by allowing the muscle, the liver and fat cells to take up sugar from the bloodstream to use as energy. In diabetes, the pancreas either does not produce enough insulin to maintain normal blood sugar levels (insulin deficiency) or the pancreas makes enough insulin, but the insulin does not work as it should (insulin resistance).
There are several types of diabetes. The most common are pre-diabetes, type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes. Of the different types of diabetes, type 2 is the most common accounting for an estimated 90 percent of all diabetes cases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Diabetes Statistic Report, in 2015 (the most recent statistics) 30.3 million Americans (9.4 percent of the population) had a diagnosis of diabetes. Even more alarming is the prevalence of pre-diabetes which was found to be present in 84.1 million Americans over the age of 18 in 2015. Statistics by race/ethnicity show African Americans ranked among the highest ethnic group with diabetes with a prevalence of 12.7 percent.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks and destroys the cells of pancreas that produce insulin. As a result the body does not make insulin (insulin deficiency). Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in infants and children.
Type 2 diabetes results from insulin resistance (impaired insulin function) followed by insulin deficiency. Historically Type 2 diabetes was almost non-existent in individuals under the age of 40 years. However, in the past several years there has been an increase in the number of children and young adults diagnosed with type 2 diabetes mainly because of poor dietary habits, lack of physical activity and childhood obesity.
Gestational diabetes occurs during the second half of pregnancy when hormones from the placenta block the action of the mother’s insulin and the mother is not able to make enough to combat the rising blood sugar levels. Individuals at risk for gestational diabetes are: greater than 25 years of age, above their ideal body weight, has a family history of diabetes, and/or are Hispanic, African American, Native American, or Asian American.
Pre-diabetes is the condition when blood sugars are higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as diabetes. Pre-diabetes is often related to your body’s inability to maintain normal blood sugars after meals.
Both pre-diabetes and gestational diabetes can be a precursor to type 2 diabetes, but the good news is one can prevent or delay the time to full blown type 2 diabetes with lifestyle changes.
Early diagnosis and treatment of diabetes and pre-diabetes can positively impact associated health outcomes and reduce the risk of and/or severity of diabetes complications. If you have any of the risk factors for diabetes listed below, talk to your doctor about screening for diabetes – at the least consider incorporating lifestyle changes to improve your diet and physical activity behaviors. Do not wait for the presence of symptoms before getting tested for diabetes, especially if you have any of the following risk factors for diabetes.
Overweight or obese
45 years of age or older
Have a family history of diabetes
Have a personal history of gestational diabetes or a condition called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Smoke or drink alcohol
Are Native, Hispanic, African American or Pacific Islander
Symptoms of type 2 diabetes do not present themselves until months or years after diabetes occurs; even then symptoms may be so mild or obscure that you may not make the connection with diabetes. However, but during this time hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) is present and its related damage may be occurring.
Symptoms of Diabetes
Increased or extreme hunger
Unexplained weight loss
Fatigue or drowsiness
Slow-healing wounds, sores or bruises
Dry, itchy skin
Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
Frequent or recurring skin, gum, bladder or vaginal yeast infections
With the proper tools and dedication you and your diabetes team can control your blood sugars. Treatment starts with a healthy diet and an active lifestyle. Tune in next week for lifestyle tips for managing your diabetes.
The Washington Informer welcomes D.C.-based businesswoman and health expert Dr. Kristal Williams, licensed clinical pharmacist and diabetes educator, to our team of well-informed columnists. Her columns will normally appear bi-monthly.