Diabetes – would you recognize it if you had it?

If you have diabetes, would you know it?  You may not. It is estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that 8.1 million Americans have it but have not yet been diagnosed (27.8% of people with diabetes are undiagnosed).  For 2014, there were 29.1 million people or 9.3% of the population with diabetes.  This disease can go undetected for a long time before it is discovered as symptoms may not occur until it is more advanced.

November is American Diabetes Month making it a good time to learn more about this 7th leading cause of death in the United States.  Understanding the different types of diabetes and symptoms to look for is important so treatment can get started to slow down or prevent major health complications.

Diabetes is when the body’s blood sugar also known as glucose, rises higher than normal which is known as hyperglycemia. 

There are 3 types of diabetes:

·      Gestational Diabetes – occurs in about 4% of all pregnant women

·      Type 1 Diabetes – occurs in about 5-10% of all diabetics

·      Type 2 Diabetes – occurs in about 90-95% of all diabetics

Gestational Diabetes occurs about halfway during pregnancy, is temporary and is a result of excessive hormone production in the body or when the pancreas cannot make enough insulin required during the pregnancy.  When a woman has gestational diabetes, this means her excess glucose is also delivered to the baby through the umbilical cord.  This causes the baby to have a higher than normal birth weight, possibly leading to a complicated delivery.  The baby is also at risk of low blood glucose after delivery, jaundice, respiratory distress syndrome, and a higher chance of dying before and after delivery.  All pregnant women are screened for gestational diabetes usually between the 24th and 28th week of pregnancy.  Once the woman delivers the baby, gestational diabetes usually goes away.  However, women who have had gestational diabetes are at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.

Type 1 Diabetes used to be known as juvenile onset diabetes as it typically is diagnosed under the age of 20.  This autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce the hormone insulin.  The pancreas is then no longer able to make insulin which is necessary to allow blood sugar or glucose to enter the body’s cells to be used for energy.  When the cells can’t get the glucose they need, the sugar or glucose builds up in the bloodstream.

Type 2 Diabetes used to be known as adult onset diabetes as it typically was diagnosed in people over the age of 45, but now there are more young people, even adolescents, being diagnosed with this disease mainly due to the prevalence of obesity.  In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas is still making insulin but the cells of the body either can’t use it or become resistant to it or the pancreas is not making enough insulin.  Glucose or sugar builds up in the bloodstream and this can cause serious damage to the eyes, heart, blood vessels, nerves, and kidneys. 

Warning signs of Diabetes

There are certain signs of diabetes a person should be aware of.  Usually these signs appear more reliably in type 1 diabetes and often, in the later stages of type 2 diabetes.  If you have any of these signs, it is crucial to go to your physician to diagnose if you have it or not. The earlier diabetes is diagnosed, the sooner you can begin treatment helping delay or prevent the complications of this disease.

·      Frequent urination

·      Unusual thirst

·      Extreme hunger

·      Unusual weight loss – this is in type 1 diabetes

·      Extreme fatigue

·      Irritability

·      Blurred vision

·      Cuts or bruises that are slow to heal

·      Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet

·      Recurring skin, gum or bladder infections

Using this information

The more you know and understand about the disease of diabetes, the more you can be aware of the signs and symptoms to keep it from taking control of your life and ruining your health.  Many people with diabetes can and do live long, healthy lives but they must be in charge of their health each and every day.  Diabetes is a chronic lifelong disease but it is manageable and having a team of healthcare experts will help and support you in keeping health risks to a minimum.