While you likely have a vague idea about what diabetes is, you may not be aware of just how severe the condition can be. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 11.3% of the U.S. population has diabetes, and as many as 38% of Americans 18 years or older have blood sugar levels higher than they should be (prediabetes). To celebrate American diabetes month, keep reading to learn more about this very serious condition.
What is diabetes?
To create energy, the body converts the meals you eat into glucose (sugar), which causes blood sugar levels to rise, according to the CDC. In a healthy body, after blood sugar levels increase, the pancreas releases insulin, which allows your body’s cells to use glucose as energy, keeping blood sugar levels in a normal range.
In people with diabetes mellitus, more commonly referred to as simply diabetes, the pancreas no longer makes insulin properly, and/or the body fails to use insulin in a productive way. This leads to the body struggling to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
What is the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?
According to the CDC, there are actually four types of diabetes.
Type 1 Diabetes
This type of diabetes is an autoimmune response that causes the body to become unable to make insulin. It is characterized by:
- Symptoms that come on quickly.
- Diagnosis at a young age (often in childhood).
- Insulin-dependence. People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin daily, or they could die.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is when the body cannot use insulin properly, causing blood sugar levels to become unbalanced. This is the most common type of diabetes and is characterized by:
- Developing slowly over years.
- Most often diagnosed in adults.
- Symptoms that come on gradually and not necessarily noticeably.
- Being capable of being delayed with lifestyle choices.
Pre-Diabetes is when blood sugar levels are higher than they should be but are still not high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. In most cases, pre-diabetes is characterized by being reversible with better lifestyle choices.
Gestational diabetes is when a pregnant person develops diabetes during pregnancy. Typically, gestational diabetes goes away after delivery, but this condition does increase the baby’s chances of obesity and developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
When is American Diabetes Month?
According to the American Diabetes Association, American Diabetes Month is in November and is dedicated to spreading awareness about the “diabetes epidemic.” American Diabetes Month also strives to highlight the stories of those living with the condition. Recently, the month has focused on educating the public on the prevalence of prediabetes and strategies for preventing type 2 diabetes.
What are the symptoms of diabetes?
According to the Mayo Clinic, people with pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes may not have symptoms initially, and symptoms will vary depending on how high or low their blood sugar levels are.
Common symptoms of diabetes include:
- Unusual thirst.
- Frequent urination.
- Ketones in the urine.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Weakness and fatigue.
- Mood swings.
- Blurred vision.
- Slow healing.
- Getting more infections than normal.
How is diabetes treated?
Treatment for diabetes depends on the severity of the case. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), any type of diabetes will require lifestyle changes in diet, physical activity, managing stress, and getting adequate rest.
Depending on the severity, diabetes medications may also be prescribed. Type 1 diabetes requires insulin to maintain safe blood sugar levels. Type 2 diabetes often requires diabetic medications as well, but not always insulin.
What are the complications of diabetes?
According to the CDC, diabetes complications can include:
- Neuropathy (nerve damage). This is the most common diabetes complication.
- Heart disease.
- Damaged blood vessels in the eyes.
- Chronic kidney disease.
- Amputation. If damage to the nerves and blood vessels in the feet becomes too severe, imputation can become necessary to prevent deadly infections from spreading.
- Gum disease.
These complications happen gradually, and some may not have any immediate symptoms. Diabetes complications often go hand in hand with ailments associated with aging. For example, some of these complications become more likely with issues such as high blood pressure or changing cholesterol numbers.
What are the risk factors for developing diabetes?
According to the NIDDK, the risk factors for type 2 diabetes include:
- A family history of diabetes.
- A history of gestational diabetes.
- Being prediabetic.
- Being overweight.
- Age (after 35, chances go up as you age).
- An inactive lifestyle.
- Your ethnicity (African Americans, American Indians, Asian Americans, Hispanics, and Pacific Islanders are more prone to diabetes).
- Gum disease (according to the CDC).
According to the Mayo Clinic, the risk factors for type 1 diabetes include:
- Having a sibling or parent with type 1 diabetes.
- Carrying certain genes.
- Being further away from the equator.
- Being within the ages of 4-7 or 10-14.
Is diabetes preventable?
According to the CDC, there is no way to prevent type 1 diabetes. However, type 2 diabetes can be prevented, or at least delayed, by living a healthy lifestyle. The CDC recommends the following strategy to avoid getting type 2 diabetes:
- Acquire and maintain healthy eating habits.
- Exercise for at least 150 minutes a week.
- Maintain healthy blood pressure numbers (generally lower than 140/90 mm Hg).
- Maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
- No smoking.
- Get an A1C test to test your average blood sugar levels under the advisement of your doctor.
- Lose weight (if you’re overweight, even just 5-7% weight loss can significantly decrease the risk).
- Maintain all your wellness visits with your primary care doctor, eye doctor, dentist, podiatrist, etc.
Diabetes is a serious condition that can lead to many life-threatening complications. To celebrate American Diabetes Month, spread the word about the seriousness of diabetes by utilizing the online tools provided by the NIDDK.
National Diabetes Month 2021. (2021)
National Diabetes Statistics Report. (2022).
Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes. (2022).
Type 1 diabetes. (2022).
What is Diabetes?. (2022).