Type 2 diabetes is a serious disease. It’s what happens when your body can’t make enough insulin or use it properly. Insulin is the hormone that regulates blood sugar. Too much sugar in the blood causes a lot of complications. People with diabetes are at high risk for nerve damage, kidney disease, skin infections, and eye problems, to name a few. All of these problems can be very painful and debilitating. And once you have diabetes, it doesn’t go away. You have to manage it for the rest of your life.
All of this sounds pretty bleak; but there is good news: the most common type of diabetes—Type 2—can sometimes be prevented. The body sends up a warning flag called prediabetes. Those who are tested and find out they have prediabetes can take action to prevent the onset of irreversible diabetes.
The first step is to know your risk. The most significant risk factor is being overweight, especially if you carry more weight around your waist. Men with a waist measurement of 40 inches or more and women with a waist measurement of 35 or more are at greater risk of diabetes.
Age is also a risk factor. Because people tend to exercise less and gain weight as they age, those over 45 are at greatest risk. Pay attention to your family history as well. If a parent or sibling has been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, you are more likely to get it. For a quick and easy screening test from the Center for Disease Control’s National Diabetes Prevention Program, visit https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/prevention/pdf/prediabetestest.pdf.
If you find that you are at risk, ask your primary care provider to test for diabetes. The test your provider will most likely recommend is called a glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test. It’s a blood test that shows your average blood sugar level for the past two to three months. Your provider is looking for a number below 5.6 percent. Measurements between 5.7 and 6.4 are an indication of prediabetes. Higher than 6.5 percent on two tests, indicates that you have diabetes.
If your test indicates you already have Type 2 diabetes, ongoing visits with a diabetes educator and a very focused and committed approach to diet and exercise can help you manage the effects of the disease. Medications and other therapies are sometimes recommended too.
If you find out you have prediabetes, the most important thing you can do is learn more. Understanding how the disease works will help you make some important life changes. The YMCA offers a proven-effective diabetes prevention program specifically for people with prediabetes. Health professionals in our area have been trained to conduct the YMCA’s workshop, and groups are forming now. You must have a prediabetes diagnosis to join. Just ask your provider to connect you with your local diabetes educator.
One-on-one consultations for a newly diagnosed person with diabetes and classes for those with prediabetes will stress two things above all of the others: a healthy diet and physical activity. Both will lead to greater success with weight management, the leading risk factor for diabetes. You will learn a many tips for eating healthier and exercising more. Success will come when you choose which tips will work for you and incorporate them into your daily routine. And because being overweight and inactive are risk factors for so many other chronic conditions, managing or preventing Type 2 diabetes will also help you prevent lots of diseases, like heart disease and cancer.
If you are among those whose blood test shows you are in the clear for diabetes, don’t let up. Almost everyone, regardless of their risk factors, can improve their health with greater attention to diet and exercise.
Paula Haytko, RN, CDE, is a certified diabetes educator at Southwestern Vermont Health Care and a trained leader in the YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. For more articles like this one, visit svhealthcare.org/wellnessconnection.