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Unlocking the Secrets: Understanding Diabetes and Its Impact on Your Health

Diabetes is among the top causes of death in the United States.

But, 95% of diabetes is preventable when you Make The Healthy Choice.

Let’s dive into the diabetes epidemic and learn what it is and how it can affect us.

In this article, we will uncover the following:

  • What is diabetes?

  • Types of diabetes

  • Diabetes in the U.S.

  • How can diabetes affect your body?

  • How can you test for diabetes?

  • How is diabetes treated?

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is complex chronic disease that is a widespread health concern. Diabetes revolves around imbalanced blood sugar levels caused by either insufficient insulin production or the body's inability to effectively utilize insulin. Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, regulates blood glucose levels by facilitating the entry of glucose into cells for energy production.

Types of Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic autoimmune disorder that develops primarily in childhood or adolescence but can occur at any age. Unlike type 2 diabetes, type 1 diabetes is not related to lifestyle factors. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, leading to an insufficient production of insulin. Without sufficient amounts of insulin, glucose flows into the bloodstream instead of feeding the intended cells. Without glucose in the intended cells, the body cannot use the glucose for energy. This process is called hyperglycemia.

As a result, individuals with type 1 diabetes rely on lifelong insulin therapy to manage their blood sugar levels effectively. Managing type 1 diabetes requires constant monitoring of blood glucose levels, careful meal planning, and regular insulin injections or the use of insulin pumps.

Type 2 diabetes, the most prevalent form of diabetes, represents a complex metabolic condition that arises primarily due to lifestyle factors. It is characterized by the body's reduced responsiveness to insulin, a hormone essential for regulating blood sugar levels. Initially, the pancreas compensates by producing more insulin, but over time, it may struggle to keep up with demand, leading to elevated blood sugar levels. Type 2 diabetes is often associated with:

  • poor lifestyle behaviors

  • unhealthy dietary choices

  • obesity

  • family history

Fast Facts: Diabetes in the U.S.

In the U.S., more than 37 million people (11% or more of the U.S. population or 1 in 10 people) have diabetes and 8.4 million (3.4 %) of these are either undiagnosed or do not know they have the disease. Also, of the 37 million, 90% - 95 % have type 2 diabetes [5]. Diabetes is the 8th leading cause of death in the U.S.

Each year, there are about 1.5 million new diagnoses in the U.S. Prevalence and incidence of diabetes varies among different age and ethnicity. For instance, the highest prevalence of diabetes occurs among 65-74 year olds (25%), while the highest incidence of the disease is among age group 45- 64 with 10.9 diagnoses per 1000. Pertaining to ethnicity, the highest prevalence is currently:

  • Native American/ Alaskan Natives at 14.5%

  • NH Blacks at 12.1%

  • Hispanics 11.8%

  • Asian American 9.5%

  • NH Whites at 7.4%.

*NH= non-hispanic

How can diabetes affect your body?

Diabetes affects various parts of the body.

Firstly, it can harm the heart and blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular problems.

Secondly, it can damage the nerves, causing issues like numbness, pain, and weakness in the hands and feet. The kidneys can also be affected, leading to problems with filtering waste from the blood. In the eyes, diabetes can cause damage that affects vision and may lead to blindness if not managed properly.

Lastly, the skin can be impacted, resulting in slow wound healing, infections, and foot ulcers.

It's important to manage diabetes carefully to minimize these health risks and complications.

How can you test for diabetes?

To accurately test for diabetes, several diagnostic methods can be employed. Common tests are the following:

The most common and reliable technique is a blood test that measures the levels of glucose in the bloodstream. This test, known as a fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test, requires the individual to fast for at least 8 hours prior to the examination. During the test, a blood sample is collected and analyzed in a laboratory to determine the fasting glucose concentration.

Another widely used test is the oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT), typically performed after an overnight fast. In this test, the individual consumes a glucose-rich beverage, and blood samples are taken at regular intervals to measure glucose levels over a specified period.

Additionally, the glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) test offers a longer-term assessment of blood sugar control. It measures the percentage of hemoglobin molecules bound to glucose in the bloodstream over the past two to three months.

These tests, combined with clinical symptoms and medical history evaluation, enable healthcare professionals to make an accurate diagnosis and determine the appropriate course of treatment for individuals suspected of having diabetes.

How is diabetes treated?

The primary treatment strategies for diabetes involve lifestyle modifications, medication, and, in some cases, insulin therapy.

Lifestyle modifications play a pivotal role in diabetes management. These include adopting a well-balanced diet that emphasizes eating various produce (fruits and vegetables), whole grains, lean proteins, while limiting the intake of sugary and processed foods. Regular physical activity is also critical, as it helps improve insulin sensitivity and control blood sugar levels. Additionally, weight management is important, as losing excess weight can positively impact blood sugar regulation.

Medications are frequently prescribed to individuals with diabetes. These medications vary depending on the type of diabetes and individual circumstances. For individuals with type 1 diabetes, insulin is a critical component of treatment, administered through injections or insulin pumps. Type 2 diabetes is often managed initially through oral medications that help improve insulin production, decrease glucose production in the liver, or enhance insulin sensitivity. In some cases, injectable medications may be necessary.

In certain situations, individuals with diabetes may require insulin therapy regardless of diabetes type. This can be through multiple daily injections or insulin pumps, providing a steady supply of insulin to control blood sugar levels effectively.

In addition to lifestyle modifications and medications, regular monitoring of blood sugar levels is imperative. Self-monitoring of blood glucose (SMBG) allows individuals to track their blood sugar levels at home using glucose meters. Healthcare providers may also recommend the use of continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) systems, which provide real-time glucose readings and help individuals make informed decisions regarding insulin dosing, diet, and physical activity.

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