Diabetes. It’s a term we are hearing more and more of, but what exactly is it? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) there’s over 30 million people in the United States with diabetes (that’s 9.4% of the US population!). In addition, 84 million adults have pre-diabetes, a condition that increases your risk for developing diabetes. That’s 1 out of every 3 adults in the United States! Unfortunately, many people don’t know what diabetes is or what they can do to manage it. Diabetes awareness is important so you can take one step at a time to prevent it or self-manage the condition.
Types of Diabetes
There are different types of diabetes:
- Type 1 diabetes accounts for 5% of diabetes. This condition often affects young children and adults. In type 1 diabetes the body does not produce insulin so the person must inject insulin to survive.
- Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90% of all diabetes. This condition is explained below.
- Gestational diabetes occurs when a woman develops diabetes during pregnancy. The diabetes usually goes away when the baby is born, however both the mother and newborn are at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
How do we digest foods and carbohydrates?
Diabetes is a condition that affects the way the body absorbs sugar. Let’s start by reviewing the basics of digestion. When we eat, foods break down into their smallest structure. In the case of carbohydrates, the body breaks down carbohydrates into sugar molecules (also called glucose). The sugar enters our bloodstream, which triggers the pancreas to release the hormone insulin. Insulin picks up the sugar and brings it into our cells for energy. You can think of insulin as the key that opens the door to the cells in our body. Our body uses the sugar in our cells to breathe, move, and basically function.
What happens with Type 2 Diabetes?
When you have diabetes, the body does not produce enough insulin or the insulin that is being produced doesn’t work effectively. We call this insulin resistance. This may be due the amount of fat around cells, so it can be harder for the insulin to work and open the ‘door’ of the cell. Type 2 diabetes cannot be reversed, however it can be controlled.
What is Pre-diabetes?
Pre-diabetes is a condition in which your blood sugars are higher than normal, but they aren’t high enough to be diagnostic of diabetes. You can think of pre-diabetes as your body’s ‘red flag’ telling you that something is wrong and that you need to start taking care of yourself! Pre-diabetes puts you at greater risk for developing diabetes. However, the good thing is that pre-diabetes can be reversed by doing lifestyle changes.
You can think of pre-diabetes as your body’s ‘red flag’ telling you that something is wrong and that you need to start taking care of yourself!
Who’s at risk for developing diabetes?
There is no single cause for developing pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes. There are some risk factors that you may have, which puts you at greater risk for developing pre-diabetes or diabetes. These include:
- Age- people over 45 years are at higher risk
- Ethnicity- people from certain ethnic backgrounds specifically African Americans, Native American, Hispanic or Asian
- Being overweight, especially in the abdominal area
- Having a family history of diabetes, including parents and siblings
- Having high blood pressure or blood cholesterol levels
- Having a history of gestational diabetes or giving birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
The CDC has developed a risk test that you can take to assess your risk level for pre-diabetes. It takes under a minute and you can take it here: https://doihaveprediabetes.org/prediabetes-risk-test.html
How do you diagnose diabetes?
Diabetes can be diagnosed by doing blood work. Your doctor may have asked for fasting blood sugars, a two-hour blood glucose test, or a Hemoglobin A1C test.
- Fasting blood sugars are when your blood sugars are tested after an 8 hour fast, usually done in the morning.
- Two-hour blood glucose test is when you’re asked to drink a concentrated sugar drink, wait two hours, then get your blood sugars checked. This is called oral-glucose tolerance test.
- Hemoglobin A1C test is a three-month average of your blood sugars. It is basically measuring the amount of sugar that is sticking to your red blood cells over the past three months.
The values below are used to diagnose prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. They are based on the American Diabetes Association Standards of Medical Care.
|Fasting Blood Glucose
|126 mg/dL or higher
|Oral Glucose Tolerance Test
|200 mg/dL or higher
|6.5% or higher
Are there any signs or symptoms for diabetes?
Many people cannot feel they have pre-diabetes or diabetes because they may not have any symptoms. Some people may feel that they are urinating more often, have low energy, or are hungry more than usual, but a lot of people find out about their pre-diabetes or diabetes at their annual checkup with the doctor.
What can I do about pre-diabetes and diabetes?
This is the most common question I receive and the answer is there’s so much you can do! Pre-diabetes and diabetes can be self-managed unlike other conditions. If you have pre-diabetes, you can prevent or delay type 2 diabetes. If you have type 2 diabetes you can control your blood sugars and make sure they are within target range so you can decrease any long term complications that result from high blood sugars. Read my next post 5 tips to manage blood sugars for practical tips on how to take charge of your health, reverse pre-diabetes, or manage your diabetes for good!