Nearly 35 million Americans have diabetes, making it incredibly common. But if you aren’t affected, you may not actually know much about the condition.
The rate of diabetes among Americans has been on the rise over the past few decades. While researchers aren’t entirely certain why that it is, it appears that the increase is connected with an American turn toward a more sedentary lifestyle.
Americans are increasingly getting less exercise, eating more processed foods and putting on excess weight. All of those are risk factors for diabetes.
In addition to the 35 million Americans who already have diabetes, there are also 88 million people in the United States who have prediabetes, a condition in which blood sugar is elevated but not to the level of diabetes. This condition is typically considered a precursor to type 2 diabetes.
Read on as we take a look at diabetes, including the two main types of the condition and what symptoms to watch for.
Your body needs blood glucose—or blood sugar—to function optimally. Glucose is gleaned from the foods that you eat and used to fuel the body, providing it with energy.
In a normally functioning body, insulin produced by the pancreas moves that glucose from food into the cells to be used as energy.
But when you have diabetes, that insulin either isn’t working or there isn’t enough insulin. That leads to elevated levels of blood sugar, which can be dangerous.
Having diabetes is a serious medical condition in and of itself, but it also increases your risk of other serious health problems, including heart disease.
Breaking Down the Types of Diabetes
There are two main types of diabetes—and they differ in how they cause elevated blood sugar.
Type 1 Diabetes
When a person has type 1 diabetes, the body doesn’t make insulin. Your immune system actually malfunctions and attacks the cells in your pancreas that are responsible for making insulin.
This type of diabetes was previously known as “juvenile” diabetes, since it is most commonly diagnosed among young people. But it can affect people of all ages. Some 1.25 million Americans currently have type 1 diabetes.
Since no insulin is being produced by the body when you have type 1 diabetes, treatment involves daily injections of insulin.
Type 2 Diabetes
When a person has type 2 diabetes, the body doesn’t make or use insulin properly. This type of diabetes is by far the most common and is tied with unhealthy lifestyle behaviors in many cases, including eating a poor diet, not getting enough exercise and carrying excess weight.
Because of this, a change in lifestyle habits is typically a first-line recommendation for treatment. If you’re diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, you can take steps to manage your condition—and in some cases even reverse it—by being more physically active, eating a balanced diet low in added sugars, getting to and maintaining a healthy weight and getting enough quality sleep.
If lifestyle changes aren’t enough to manage your blood sugar effectively, your doctor may also recommend oral or injected medications, including insulin.
In addition to the two main types of diabetes, gestational diabetes is another common form of the condition. It develops in some women during pregnancy and usually goes away after delivery.
Women who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes are at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
What About Prediabetes?
We mentioned earlier that there’s also a condition known as prediabetes. Having prediabetes means you are at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Like type 2 diabetes, prediabetes is often tied to a sedentary lifestyle, poor diet and excess weight. Because of that, you can reverse prediabetes and limit your risk of developing diabetes by living a healthy lifestyle.
Consider a prediabetes diagnosis as a yellow “caution” light—it allows you to reset and practice healthier habits to try and avoid diabetes.
Diabetes Symptoms to Watch For
When your blood sugar is elevated for any length of time, it can negatively affect many parts of the body. Over time, it can even increase your risk of many different serious health conditions.
Pay careful attention to your body and seek medical attention if you begin to experience any of these symptoms:
- Excess or prolonged fatigue
- Blurry vision
- Unhealing sores or wounds
- Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
- Increased thirst or hunger
- Unexplained weight loss
- Increased need to urinate
A glucose test is often performed as part of your well-person checkup each year. Talk with your doctor about whether you should have one and how often.
If it’s been a while since you last had a checkup, now’s the perfect time! A checkup allows your doctor to check for chronic health conditions, such as diabetes. FIND A PROVIDER HERE.