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Diabetes: What You Need to Know

A person using a blood glucose monitor with fresh vegetables in front of them on the table.

Diabetes is a common chronic condition that affects millions of people in the United States. While this disease is common, it can also be serious. People who have diabetes must carefully manage their condition every day to avoid potentially life-threatening complications.

We’ll cover what you need to know about how diabetes could affect you, and what to do if it does.

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic (lifelong) disease that has to do with insulin, a hormone that controls our blood glucose (sugar). Diabetes occurs when your pancreas can’t produce enough insulin or when your body can’t use the insulin that is produced. According to the CDC’s 2022 National Diabetes Statistics Report, over 130 million adults are living with diabetes or prediabetes in the United States.

Around 1.4 million people were diagnosed with diabetes for the first time in 2019 alone.

The report also indicated that American Indian and Alaska Native persons, non-Hispanic Black people, adults with a family income below the federal poverty level and people with less education were more likely to have diagnosed diabetes.

Types of Diabetes

There are two primary types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2. Other less common types include: 

  • Gestational diabetes which affects pregnant women
  • Monogenic diabetes syndromes which are rare and run in families
  • Cystic fibrosis-related diabetes
  • Diabetes that’s caused by drugs or chemicals

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is also referred to as juvenile diabetes is considered to be an autoimmune disease and cannot be prevented or cured. If you have Type 1, your body doesn’t make insulin, so you have to take insulin every day. Often, this disease develops in children or teens and symptoms generally come on quickly. 

Type 2 Diabetes

In Type 2 diabetes (also called adult onset diabetes), your pancreas produces some insulin but not enough. Your cells also don’t respond well to insulin and struggle to keep your blood sugar at normal levels. Most people who have diabetes have Type 2 and it’s most common in people over the age of 40. While Type 2 cannot be cured, it develops over time, often doesn’t show symptoms and can be prevented or delayed.

Symptoms of Diabetes

The symptoms of Type 1 diabetes generally happen fast and are more severe than those of Type 2. The Cleveland Clinic states that symptoms include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Excessive hunger
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Blurred vision
  • Slow healing of cuts and sores
  • Fatigue
  • Vaginal yeast infections
  • Frequent urination including bedwetting in children

Some people with type 2 diabetes don’t have symptoms at all. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, you may experience:

  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Increased hunger
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Slow-healing sores
  • Frequent infections
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Areas of darkened skin usually in the armpits and neck

How Is Diabetes Diagnosed?

There are multiple methods of diagnosing diabetes. Your doctor might recommend an A1c test, a plasma glucose test or an oral glucose tolerance test. While some of these tests require fasting overnight, they’re all fairly simple and painless blood tests that check your blood glucose level to see whether it’s normal. Sometimes urine samples are needed too.

The American Diabetes Association also recommends that the following people be screened for diabetes on a regular basis:

  • ​​Anyone with a body mass index higher than 25 (23 for Asian Americans), regardless of age, who has additional risk factors (high blood pressure, non-typical cholesterol levels, an inactive lifestyle, a history of polycystic ovary syndrome or heart disease and having a close relative with diabetes)
  • Anyone older than age 35
  • Women who have had gestational diabetes
  • Anyone who has been diagnosed with prediabetes
  • Anyone who has HIV

Diabetes Treatment 

Neither Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes can be cured. Instead, people living with these conditions must carefully treat and manage their diabetes every day. 

Type 1 

People with Type 1 diabetes must take insulin every day in order to stay alive. They monitor their blood sugar throughout the day, aiming to keep it as close to normal (70-140 mg/dl) as possible. Low blood sugar requires eating fast-acting carbs or sugar to bring it back up while high blood sugar might require adjusting insulin doses.  Doctors often recommend that people with Type 1 eat healthy foods and get regular exercise. Living with Type 1 can be a lot of work. But new technology like insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) makes it easier than ever.

Type 2 

To manage Type 2 diabetes, your doctor will likely advise healthy eating, regular exercise and losing weight (many people with Type 2 are overweight). You might need medication or insulin therapy at some point. And monitoring your blood sugar levels is important, too.

Can You Prevent Diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented. However, you may be able to prevent Type 2 diabetes by making healthy lifestyle choices. For example, you should:

  • Eat healthy foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. You may want to check out our blog, 7 Nutritious Foods That Won’t Break the Bank
  • Exercise, aiming for 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity most days of the week
  • If you’re overweight, lose weight (your healthcare provider can help guide you)

Diabetes can cause many scary and potentially life-threatening complications, such as heart disease, kidney disease and nerve damage. This is why it’s so essential to correctly prevent and treat diabetes.

When to See A Doctor

If you’re experiencing any symptoms of diabetes, contact your doctor without delay. If you are diagnosed with diabetes you’ll likely see an endocrinologist.

If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, check out this post about financial next steps after a diabetes diagnosis.

You may also be interested in reading our blog, Tina Turner’s Biggest Health Regret You Can Learn From

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