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The Lowdown on Diabetes

High blood sugar. High blood glucose. Type 1. Type 2. Prediabetes. These terms can be confusing when talking about diabetes. But since 30.3 million Americans have this illness and another 84.1 million have prediabetes—a condition that can lead to diabetes — it’s important to get the lowdown on the disease and learn how to minimize the risk of developing it.

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs when abnormally high levels of sugar (also called glucose) are in the blood. When you eat any type of food, not just sugar, your body breaks the food down into glucose, which goes into the bloodstream. As glucose levels in the blood rise, the pancreas receives a signal to make insulin, which helps glucose get into cells to provide fuel. However, if you have diabetes, the pancreas either doesn’t produce insulin, doesn’t produce enough insulin or the body doesn’t react to the insulin properly, so the glucose can’t get into the cells. When high levels of glucose remain in the bloodstream long-term, it can result in significant complications such as blindness, amputations, kidney failure, stroke and heart attack.

Two main types of diabetes can develop: type 1 and type 2. Even though the names are similar, they are different diseases with unique causes.

  • With type 1 diabetes, your body’s immune system mistakes healthy cells for the enemy, and attacks and destroys insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, so the pancreas can’t make insulin. If you have type 1 diabetes, you will need to take insulin to keep the disease under control. Type 1 diabetes is not preventable, and researchers aren’t sure why the immune system attacks the body’s own cells, but think genetic and environmental factors play a role.
  • If you have type 2 diabetes, your pancreas may produce some insulin, but it may not make enough or you may be insulin-resistant, meaning your body doesn’t respond to insulin as well as it should. Again, researchers aren’t sure why this change may happen, but excess weight and inactivity can be factors.
  • Prediabetes isn’t technically the same as diabetes, but it is a condition that, if untreated, often leads to type 2 diabetes within five years. With prediabetes, your blood sugar levels are elevated, but not enough to be classified as diabetic. You may have no symptoms and might only know of your condition if your blood glucose levels are tested.

Symptoms of Diabetes

While prediabetes may give few signs, type 1 and type 2 diabetes have noticeable symptoms, including:Doctor testing mans blood sugar

  • Frequent urination
  • Feeling very thirsty
  • Feeling hungry
  • Feeling very tired
  • Blurred vision
  • Cuts or sores that don’t heal properly

Those with type 1 diabetes also may be irritable, have mood changes and may unintentionally lose weight. Those with type 2 also may notice numbness or tingling in their hands and feet.

If you experience any of those symptoms or feel sick to your stomach, weak but thirsty, find yourself breathing deeper or faster than normal, or notice your breath has an unusually sweet odor like nail polish remover, talk with your doctor to see if you may have diabetes.

Risk Factors for Diabetes

Diabetes can occur in anyone, but some people have a higher risk than others. If you have close relatives with diabetes, are over 45, are overweight, or have belly fat, high cholesterol or high blood pressure, your odds of developing diabetes are higher. If you are a woman with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or have ever had gestational diabetes or given birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds, your risk increases as well. African Americans, Alaska Natives, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic/Latinos, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders also have increased risk.

Preventing Diabetes

Although type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes or prediabetes can be lowered through lifestyle changes.

  • Have regular medical checkups that include testing your blood glucose, blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels.
  • Manage your weight. Excess body fat, particularly around the middle, can increase your resistance to insulin, which can lead to type 2 diabetes.
  • Exercise regularly. This will help you manage weight and reduce blood glucose levels.
  • Eat a balanced, healthy diet. Add fruit, vegetables and high-fiber foods to your plate, while cutting back on salt, saturated and trans fats. Limit processed foods, which are often high in sodium and fat.
  • Limit alcohol intake. Too much alcohol can lead to weight gain and increase your blood pressure and triglyceride levels, which can raise the risk of diabetes and heart diseases.
  • Quit smoking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that smoking causes type 2 diabetes, and that those who smoke are 30 percent to 40 percent more likely to develop diabetes than nonsmokers.

Diabetes is a serious disease that can have devastating effects on the body. But, it also can be managed and controlled in partnership with your doctor. Even better, type 2 diabetes can be prevented by recognizing the risks and symptoms, and making lifestyle changes that lead to a healthier outcome.

Learn More About Diabetes Care at Orlando Health

Our goal is to make living with diabetes more manageable for you. Based on your type of diabetes, medical condition and lifestyle, our team of specialists will work closely with you to tailor a personalized treatment plan for managing your condition.

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