About the Author
Barbara Schuetze is a Portland, Ore., freelance writer who specializes in health and wellness topics. She has written for most of the major health systems in Oregon and Southwest Washington, and her work has appeared in magazines, newspapers and on the Web. She has been writing professionally since 1983.
Have you noticed the surge in TV commercials advertising diabetes blood glucose testing supplies lately?
There's good reason: 23.6 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes and 57 million have pre-diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). And the numbers are increasing rapidly.
The most common form of this disease is type 2 diabetes, also known as adult-onset diabetes or noninsulin-dependent diabetes. This serious, lifelong condition accounts for approximately 90-95 percent of all cases. It mainly affects older adults, but a growing number of children and teens are now being diagnosed with it.
How It Happens"Diabetes is a disorder in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal, explains Andrew Ahmann, MD, endocrinologist and director of the Harold Schnitzer Diabetes Health Center at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Ore. "Diabetes occurs when your body can't make enough insulin or use insulin properly."
Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, is needed to move blood glucose (sugar) into the cells, for your body to use for energy. When glucose doesn't get to into your body's cells to supply energy, sugar builds up in your blood and causes the symptoms of diabetes.
Over time, high blood glucose levels can cause health problems related to your heart, kidneys, eyes, feet, and nerves, as well as your teeth and gums. "High blood glucose levels lead to complications, disability and, potentially, death if left uncontrolled," says Ahmann. "However, if you control your blood glucose levels, you can limit your risk for complications and, in most cases, lead a long and full life."
To control your blood glucose levels, it's important to be active, eat healthy, test your blood glucose levels regularly, take any prescribed medication(s) properly, and visit your doctor three to four times a year.
Warning Signs and RisksType 2 diabetes usually comes on gradually, and you may not have, or notice, any symptoms. If you experience any of these warning signs, see your doctor right away:
- Frequent urination, especially at night
- Unusual thirst, hunger or fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
- Blurred vision
- Frequent infections
- Slow healing of sores
"Factors that directly increase your risk for getting type 2 diabetes include: having a close family member with diabetes, being forty-five ... or older with other risk factors, being obese and inactive," says Dr. Ahmann. "There's also increased risk among certain ethnic groups, including African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans."
Dr. Ahmann adds that predictors for higher risk include having high blood pressure, gestational diabetes during pregnancy, low HDL (good) cholesterol and/or high triglyceride levels. "But even if you have risk factors, you don't have to get diabetes--in some cases, you can prevent or at least delay it."
According to experts, before developing type 2 diabetes, most individuals have pre-diabetes--blood glucose levels that are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Taking action to manage your blood glucose when you have pre-diabetes helps to delay or prevent type 2 diabetes.
Several studies show that people with pre-diabetes who lost 7 to 8 percent of body weight and exercised 30 minutes a day, five days a week, had a 60 percent chance of delaying or preventing diabetes. These same recommendations also apply to people with type 2 diabetes because of the potential for improving blood glucose control.
Taking Control and Getting Support"The first step is learning to control your diet and exercise, and losing weight," says Kathy Hefflinger, a registered dietitian and diabetes educator at Legacy Good Samaritan Medical Center in Portland, Ore., "Medication also may be prescribed initially, or later, to help control blood sugar levels." Eventually, some patients may need to take insulin.
Most medical centers have nurses and dietitians who teach patients with diabetes how to check their blood sugar, what test results mean, how to eat healthfully, prevent complications, and set goals.
When Judy Delaney Galloway of Portland was diagnosed with type 2 Diabetes in August 2008, she fit the high-risk profile: She had a family history of diabetes, was 65 years old, overweight, inactive, and suffering from high-blood pressure. Joining Legacy's diabetes education program gave her the support and information she needed to make lifestyle changes.
"My first reaction to my diagnosis was to think: Oh great, something else to worry about," recalls Galloway. "But then it dawned on me that with all my other ailments, this is now something I couldn't mess around with--it helped me get unstuck and start to change my diet and lose weight."
Galloway is currently controlling her blood glucose without medication, losing weight and starting to exercise "My goal is to continue controlling it that way," she says. "It's great to know that life is not over, to feel better and to realize that I can still enjoy a full, happy life."
For information about tests to determine if you have pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes, check with your doctor.