Know how to prevent, identify and manage diabetes
Diabetes affects nearly 10% of the U.S. population and as many as 25% of adults over 65, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). At the same time, the CDC has found that more than 25% of all people living with diabetes don’t know they have it.
In the Vidant Health North 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment, diabetes was identified as a prioritized health need. While 45.2% of survey respondents rated their health as good, 23.7% reported they had been told by a health professional that they had diabetes. In 2017, diabetes ranked fourth in leading causes of death for Halifax County. Because diabetes can have serious complications, it’s important to know the signs, symptoms, and how to prevent and manage it.
HOW DIABETES AFFECTS THE BODY
People with diabetes experience blood sugar (glucose) levels that are unusually high, which can lead to health problems, including heart disease, nerve damage and kidney failure. Insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas, helps moderate blood sugar levels by transporting glucose to the body’s cells, where it is used for energy. A lack of insulin can lead to runaway blood sugar levels.
Type 1 diabetes usually affects children whose immune system destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. People with type 2 diabetes have no insulin or struggle to use it efficiently.
CAUSES OF DIABETES
Lifestyle habits such as alcohol consumption, smoking and diet all factor into one’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Moderate alcohol consumption—defined as one drink per day for women of all ages and men over 65, and two drinks per day for men under 65—is OK, but more than that may cause chronic inflammation that damages the pancreas’ ability to secrete insulin. Tobacco use can lead to insulin resistance. Heavy smokers are almost twice as likely to develop diabetes. And a diet of high-fat, high-calorie foods sets the stage for obesity, which increases a person’s risk of developing diabetes.
Genetics can also play a role in a person’s chances of developing diabetes. People with a family history of diabetes are more likely to develop the disease. African Americans, Alaskan Native Americans, American Indians, Asian Americans, Latinos, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have an elevated risk of developing diabetes.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
The classic symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes include increased thirst, frequent urination, excess hunger, fatigue, cuts or bruises that heal slowly, unexplained weight loss and blurred vision.
Diabetes is diagnosed with a blood test. Children who show symptoms or have a family history of type 1 diabetes should get tested by their physician. Testing for type 2 diabetes is appropriate for everyone over age 45, but it may be necessary as early as age 19 for people who are overweight or obese and have another risk factor. You should always seek a diagnosis from your physician. There are no over-the-counter blood tests that can diagnose diabetes.
Diabetes can be managed with daily insulin or insulin-promoting medicine, eating a balanced diet, checking blood sugar levels regularly and exercising.
Vidant North Hospital offers the Diabetes Self-Management Program and Diabetes Education & Support Group. The Self-Management Program begins with a one-hour assessment, followed by two classes covering how the disease develops and how to manage it. Certified diabetes educators help patients formulate personalized treatment and management plans. You must be referred to the Self-Management Program by your primary care physician, but the support group is open to the public.
While diabetes cannot be cured, there are steps you can take to decrease your risk of developing the disease, such as maintaining a healthy weight. A preventive diet prioritizes a variety of grains, fruits, vegetables, proteins and healthy fats.
A sedentary lifestyle may predispose you to higher blood sugar levels. Try to get 30 minutes of aerobic activity each day. If you are trying to lose weight as part of your diabetes management plan, you will likely need about 60 minutes of activity five times per week.
How to Manage Diabetes
Regular exercise causes your muscles to use sugar for energy and helps the body use insulin more efficiently. Talk to your doctor about an exercise plan that’s right for you and then keep to a regular schedule.
A healthy diet is important in managing diabetes. Carbohydrates have the most impact on blood sugar levels, so knowing the amount of carbohydrates in your food is crucial for people taking mealtime insulin. People with diabetes should avoid foods high in sodium, sugar, saturated fat and trans fat.
Stress is known as a contributor to high blood sugar levels. Stress triggers the fight or flight response, causing the body to increase glucose levels that cannot be metabolized properly in people with diabetes. Try to lessen stress by spending time daily in meditation.