Understanding Diabetes Risk
It’s National Diabetes Awareness Month. We celebrate every November to spread knowledge and resources about this serious disease. Diabetes affects 10 percent of Americans. Over time, it can lead to organ damage and cause heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, nerve damage, fatty liver disease, blindness, and amputations.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes affects people whose bodies do not process sugar normally. This could be because their bodies don’t make enough insulin, an important chemical that helps bodies manage blood sugar, or because the cells of the body have stopped responding to insulin. This relates to higher blood sugar levels, which can cause damage.
What are the different types?
There are four types of diabetes: type 1 diabetes, gestational diabetes, prediabetes, and type 2 diabetes. The two most common are prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
- A startling one in three Americans have prediabetes, higher than normal blood sugar levels that increases the risk of developing diabetes. Only 12% of those people are aware they have prediabetes. Prediabetes has no symptoms, but people with prediabetes have already begun processing sugar in an abnormal way. Fortunately, prediabetes is reversible with lifestyle changes.
Prediabetes most often affects those who are overweight, 45 years or older, have a family history, have had gestational diabetes, or are of African American, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian, Alaskan Native, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander descent. It can be reversed with proven lifestyle changes, like improving diet and exercise.
- After as few as 5 years, prediabetes can change into Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes shares many risk factors with prediabetes. In addition, if you are active fewer than three times a week, smoke, already have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease or sleep apnea, you are at even greater risk. Type 2 diabetes is irreversible and requires careful management to prevent serious organ damage.
I may be at risk. What should I do?
There is so much you can do to prevent and manage diabetes.
- Take this online risk assessment: https://doihaveprediabetes.org/take-the-risk-test/#/.
- Visit your primary care provider every year and ensure that they test for diabetes, especially if you are at increased risk.
- If your doctor tells you that you have prediabetes, take it seriously. Join a National Diabetes Prevention program at https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/prevention/find-a-program.html or myhealthyvt.org or visit https://svhealthcare.org/services/diabetes-education for services available for free locally.
- Know the symptoms of diabetes and see your doctor if they occur. They include increased thirst, frequent urination, increased hunger, fatigue, blurred vision, numbness or tingling in hands or feet, frequent infections, slow-healing sores, and unintended weight loss.
- What you eat and how much you move your body impact diabetes prevention and maintenance significantly, so eat a healthy diet, avoid added sugar, and build an exercise habit that includes getting some movement on most days.
Together, we can help prevent and manage diabetes, so it doesn’t cause the significant harm and death it is capable of.
Paula Haytko, RN, CDE, is a certified diabetes educator whose services are offered free to patients of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, part of Southwestern Vermont Health Care, in Bennington. For more information or to schedule a no-cost appointment, call (802) 440-4025.