Kristi Stemsrud, P.A.-C., C.D.E.
Endocrinology (Diabetes & Metabolism)
If current trends continue, as many as one in three Americans will have diabetes by the year 2050. That projection is staggering, but it doesn’t necessarily have to come true.
Almost 30 million adults and children in the United States have diabetes, and there are several forms of the disease. Type 1 diabetes, which afflicts approximately 5 percent of the U.S. population, is an autoimmune disease where the body destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Many people think this type of diabetes is only diagnosed in children and adolescents, but more than half the people diagnosed with type 1 diabetes are over 30 years of age.
Type 2 diabetes is a condition where the pancreas still produces insulin but the body doesn’t use it appropriately. In the past, this type of diabetes was only diagnosed in adults. But now that many young people are suffering from overweight and obesity issues, we’re seeing this much more in children and adolescents.
Types of diabetes
In each type of diabetes, the primary health issue is elevated blood glucose. These types include:
- Type 1 diabetes. This form always needs to be controlled with insulin.
- Type 2 diabetes. You may be able to control the disease with diet, exercise and oral medications, but eventually, these people will need insulin to treat their condition.
- Gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes is contracted during pregnancy. It affects nearly one in 10 pregnancies. Women who have gestational diabetes have a much greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes during their lifetime.
Signs and symptoms
Signs and symptoms of diabetes include:
- Excessive thirst
- Frequent urination
- Weight loss
Left undiagnosed and untreated, diabetes can lead to severe, long-term complications, including:
- Eye disease and blindness
- Nerve disease
- Peripheral vascular disease and amputations
- Kidney disease, and increased risk of heart disease and stroke
Risk factors for type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease, include:
- Being overweight or obese
- Physical inactivity
- Having a first-degree relative with diabetes
- Having a history of gestational diabetes or delivering a baby greater than nine pounds
- Having high blood pressure or cholesterol
- Having prediabetes, metabolic syndrome or polycystic ovarian syndrome
Certain ethnic populations also have higher risk, including Hispanic-Americans, Native-Americans, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Eighty-six million Americans have prediabetes — a condition where the blood glucoses are just starting to elevate and are not yet to the level where diabetes can be diagnosed. Prediabetes, however, doesn’t have to become type 2 diabetes. The Diabetes Prevention Program study showed that lifestyle intervention (diet, exercise and weight reduction) can cut the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by more than half.
By balancing diet, exercise and medication, you can control diabetes and prevent long-term complications. However, this requires commitment on your part. Each person’s plan to control diabetes needs to be individualized. With the right team of health care providers, and with a strong personal support system, people with diabetes can live long and healthy lives without complications.Kristi Stemsrud is a physician assistant and certified diabetes educator at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato.