Chances are pretty good that you know at least one person with diabetes because of the sheer number of Americans living with this condition. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 11.3% of Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes with another 38% of adults ages 18 years and older considered pre-diabetic. Understanding what causes diabetes and how to manage it can be pivotal in preventing serious side effects and complications.
When someone has diabetes, their body has problems making or using insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone that helps the body absorb blood sugar (glucose) into fat, muscle, and bone cells as well as the liver. When insulin production is not working correctly, glucose can build up in the bloodstream or not build up enough. When left untreated, both situations can lead to serious health problems that could require emergency care.
The three primary types of diabetes are Type 1, Type 2, and gestational diabetes, which are defined below. Additionally, pre-diabetes is a condition that can serve as a warning sign of future health issues.
People with Type 1 diabetes must take insulin daily to survive because their bodies do not make insulin properly. Affecting 5-10% of those with diabetes, type 1 diabetes can be diagnosed at any age – generally childhood or teen years -- and come on quickly. At this point, researchers do not know how to prevent type 1 diabetes.
Usually diagnosed in adults, Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes, affecting 90-95% of those with the condition. With this form of diabetes, the body does make insulin but does not use it effectively; therefore, the body’s blood sugar levels can vary widely from too high to too low. By maintaining a healthy lifestyle, Type 2 diabetes may be able to be prevented or delayed.
The American Diabetes Association estimates that 1 in 10 pregnant women are affected by gestational diabetes each year. Women generally develop gestational diabetes in the later stages of pregnancy, and it occurs when their bodies have problems making and using insulin properly due to hormonal changes during pregnancy. Higher levels of glucose can be transferred to the baby, which can lead to extra weight gain in utero and other birth risks. If not managed properly during pregnancy, gestational diabetes can place babies at higher risk for obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
According to the CDC, 96 million adults in the United States are living with pre-diabetes (increased blood sugar levels not yet at diabetic levels) but 80% are unaware they have it. Individuals with pre-diabetes are at an increased risk for developing diabetes as well as other serious health conditions.
In addition to high blood sugar levels, which are best detected through a laboratory test, common symptoms include:
For people with Type 1 diabetes, these symptoms can develop quickly while those with Type 2 diabetes may not notice many of those symptoms for a period.
Besides the need to take insulin and/or additional medications, diabetes can cause other serious health problems including nerve damage, heart disease, and kidney disease. Foot problems are also common among those with diabetes. That is because nerve damage can cause the loss of feeling in the feet, which means that if a person gets a blister or cut on their foot, they may not realize it. Because they are unaware, the blister or cut can get worse or infected. In extreme cases, a serious infection (gangrene) can develop. To prevent the spread throughout the rest of the body, doctors may recommend amputation of a foot, toe, or leg, depending upon the severity and scope of the infection.
A healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced diet and exercise program is the biggest weapon against preventing Type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes. Research has shown that a diet high in fiber and whole foods like fruits and vegetables can have a positive impact. Lowering sugar and carbohydrate intake may also assist in preventing and controlling diabetes. Smoking may also put people at a higher risk.
In addition to medications and insulin management, people living with diabetes can better manage their condition with regular A1C blood tests every couple of months to measure glucose levels to ensure they are in the recommended range. Controlling blood pressure and cholesterol are also helpful steps.
Talk with your physician about your risks for developing diabetes and create a plan to reduce them. If you are already living with diabetes, stay current with your medical checkups to monitor your condition. You may also find emotional support through diabetes support groups in your area. Many hospitals also offer diabetes management programs to provide supervised education and guidance to help you live your healthiest life with diabetes.
If you live with diabetes, PAM Health can help maximize your quality of life with our range of therapeutic programs that address common complications resulting from diabetes. Our advanced wound care program can help people suffering from diabetic ulcers heal, and our therapeutic programs for heart, vascular, kidney, or nerve complications and amputees can help those with these conditions manage them and improve their symptoms. Learn more here.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Diabetes Statistics Report website. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/data/statistics-report/index.html. Accessed Nov. 13, 2023.
“The Path to Understanding Diabetes Starts Here.” About Diabetes | ADA, diabetes.org/about-diabetes. Accessed 13 Nov. 2023.