Diabetes affects more than 30 million adults in the United States, and 1 in 4 of them don’t know they have the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The center’s statistics also show that in the past 20 years, the number of adults diagnosed with diabetes has more than tripled.
It’s important to know the signs and symptoms associated with diabetes, as well as the ways it can impact other body functions. Unfortunately, this widespread disease has no cure, but creating healthy lifestyle habits, eating well and receiving diabetes education can reduce the disease’s impact on a person’s life.
Carolina Abrew, MD, a family medicine physician at Loma Linda University Health, believes that creating more awareness can help people with diabetes, their families and their loved ones understand the disease.
Abrew shares three important things to know about diabetes:
1. Know the three types.
Type 1 diabetes is triggered by an autoimmune reaction that stops your body from making insulin. “Type 1 affects about 5 percent of people with diabetes,” Abrew says. Symptoms usually develop quickly in Type 1, and it’s often identified before a person reaches adulthood. “There is no known prevention, and insulin must be administered daily in patients with Type 1,” she says.
Early symptoms to watch for include frequent urination, sudden weight loss, blurry vision and a decreased energy level. “If you see some or all of these symptoms, make an appointment with your primary care physician,” Abrew says. If left untreated, diabetes can impact the body on a larger scale. People with poorly managed diabetes can develop serious issues with their eyes, heart and even gums.
Type 2 diabetes is found when the body is unable to maintain normal blood sugar levels. Of people with diabetes, more than 90 percent have Type 2, according to the CDC. Typically diagnosed in adults, Type 2 has less visible symptoms than Type 1. The symptoms associated with Type 2 include dry mouth, consistently feeling hungry or thirsty and foot pain and numbness.
“People with a higher risk for this type should have their blood sugar tested,” Abrew says. “Those at greater risk include people who are overweight, age 40 or older, have a family history of diabetes or have high blood pressure.” Healthy lifestyle changes can delay or even prevent Type 2 diabetes, she says. Recognizing the effect the disease has on other bodily systems can help with identifying the problems early on.
Gestational diabetes occurs in pregnant women who have never had diabetes. “Children whose mothers have gestational diabetes could be at higher risk for health complications,” Abrew says. Gestational diabetes develops because of hormonal changes, occurring during pregnancy — including a buildup of glucose in the blood and insulin resistance — and will usually go away after the mother gives birth. “However, women who had gestational diabetes are at an increased risk to develop type 2 diabetes later in life,” Abrew says.
2. Manage lifestyle choices.
Getting enough physical activity is vital for people with diabetes. An active lifestyle makes the body more sensitive to insulin, making it easier for the fat to burn and making diabetes more manageable. “Being active can also help maintain good blood sugar levels, as well as lower your risk of heart disease or nerve damage,” Abrew says.
In addition, exercise helps people maintain their weight, sleep better and feel healthier. “Talk to your doctor about which activities would be best for you,” she says. “Enlisting the help of a coach or trainer can help you create exercise plans that work for your life and your schedule.”
Choosing healthy foods is especially important for people with diabetes. Eating well is one of the most essential components to whole person health, especially for those who measure their insulin and need to maintain their blood sugar levels. “Working with a doctor or dietitian to create a meal plan can be the push some patients need,” Abrew says. “It’s important to learn how to choose healthy foods, how to create appropriate portion sizes and what to drink without overdoing the calories.”
3. Surround yourself with a system of support.
It can be challenging to navigate and maintain a healthy lifestyle without support from the people around you. Abrew recommends enlisting help from friends and family. She says asking people to support you as you make healthy choices can make lifestyle changes more appealing. Going on walks with friends or having an accountability partner for the gym can make the process of getting in shape a lot easier and more fun.
“When we have people making healthy lifestyle choices with us, we are more motivated to make the changes stick,” Abrew says. “In addition to creating a support system at home, joining a church group or a support group can make the process easier.”
To learn more about support groups and related conditions, visit our Diabetes Treatment Center. If you’re interested in learning more about how you or a loved one can a diabetes diagnosis, or other health problems, schedule an appointment with a primary care doctor online, through MyChart or by calling 909-558-6600.
To learn more about diabetes from a past patient, a dietitian and a physician, watch the Facebook Live segment, “Demystifying Diabetes”.