What to know about diabetes

Posted by Julie Schema, R.N. C.D.E.
November 01, 2016

Diabetes Spelled Out in Blocks

Approximately 30 million Americans have diabetes. Diabetes is one of the leading causes of death in this country. In 2012, the cost of diagnosed diabetes in the United States, including direct medical costs and reduced productivity, was $245 billion.

Diabetes refers to a group of diseases that affect how our bodies use glucose (blood sugar). Having diabetes means you have too much glucose in your blood, and that can lead to serious health problems.

Diabetes presents itself in many different ways. When it develops rapidly, as with type 1 diabetes, a person might experience intense thirst. As a result, the person needs to use a bathroom excessively. Unexplained weight loss may also occur.

Most people with diabetes won’t feel, look or act differently. It’s a silent disease that gradually gets worse if not treated. For this reason, have a simple blood test yearly to measure your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Types of diabetes

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the insulin-producing cells in your body function poorly or not at all. Treatment for type 1 diabetes involves insulin injections or the use of an insulin pump to help regulate blood glucose. The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when your cells become resistant to the action of insulin and your body cannot produce enough insulin to overcome this resistance. The result is a buildup of sugar in your bloodstream. There is a strong link between type 2 diabetes and being overweight; but not everyone with type 2 is overweight.

Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy, a time when your body produces hormones that make your cells more resistant to insulin. Sometimes your body can’t produce enough insulin to counteract that resistance, and the result is gestational diabetes. Frequently, this situation resolves itself after the baby is born. Once you’ve had gestational diabetes, you’re more likely to have it again in a future pregnancy, and you’re more likely to develop type 2 diabetes as you get older.

OK, now what?

If you’re experiencing diabetes symptoms, including increased thirst, frequent urination, extreme hunger and unexplained weight loss, see your health care provider as soon as you can.

If you have a family history of type 2 diabetes, make sure you have yearly blood tests so your doctor can watch for glucose changes. You may be told you have “pre-diabetes.” With lifestyle changes, you can prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes in many cases.

If you’re diagnosed with diabetes, treatment may include meeting with a certified diabetes educator to learn about blood sugar monitoring, lifestyle changes and/or medication options.

The key to any diabetes management — and prevention — plan is eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly and always following the advice of your medical team. 

Good advice for all

  • Learn what you need to know about diabetes. If you’re diagnosed with diabetes, get to know a diabetes educator and reach out to a trusted friend or family member who can become your wellness buddy.
  • Choose healthy foods, and maintain a healthy weight. A healthy diet includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and water. Look out for hidden fats and sugars in foods.
  • Make physical activity part of your daily routine. Regular exercise is good for all of us. Even if it’s a brisk walk or dancing, try to move daily.

Living with diabetes can be difficult and frustrating, but you don’t have to go at it alone. Your health care provider can help steer you to additional support and resources.

Julie Schema is a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator at Mayo Clinic Health System in Waseca.

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