While we’ve all been focused on the current global COVID-19 pandemic, there’s another health concern that’s been steadily on the rise: diabetes. November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, and we’re talking about this health concern because it’s the 7th leading cause of death in the U.S. and impacts almost every part of the body. Diabetes is also the leading cause of blindness in working-age adults, kidney failure, amputations, heart failure, and stroke and has been linked to heart disease, dental disease, and nerve damage. Here’s what you need to know about this growing health crisis.
What Is Diabetes?
Simply put, diabetes occurs when your blood sugar, also called blood glucose, is too high. Blood glucose is your main source of energy and comes from the food you eat. Insulin is a hormone made by your pancreas that helps convert glucose to energy. Sometimes, your body doesn’t make enough insulin, which causes the glucose to stay in your blood rather than be used for energy. Over time, when you have too much glucose in your blood, it can damage your blood vessels and organs. This is what contributes to the common complications of diabetes.
- Increased thirst, hunger, and/or urination
- Blurred vision
- Numbness or tingling in the feet or hands
- Sores that won’t heal
- Unexplained weight loss
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is characterized by the immune system attacking cells in the pancreas that produce insulin and is caused by genetics and environmental factors like viruses. It usually has a quick onset of symptoms in the younger years of life, but it can arise at any time.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is the most common type with about 95% of diagnosed cases. Caused by factors like genetics, family history, obesity, or physical inactivity, type 2 diabetes usually develops over several years and may not be noticed until complications arise.
Gestational diabetes is developed during pregnancy and usually goes away once the baby is born.
Monogenetic diabetes occurs when a single gene has an abnormality that causes diabetes.
Cystic Fibrosis-Related Diabetes
Cystic fibrosis-related diabetes is caused by scarring on the pancreas, preventing normal amounts of insulin production.
Diabetes is unique in the fact that it affects almost every aspect of health. From the eyes to the toes, diabetes can lead to new or worsening health concerns. Some of the common aspects of health affected by diabetes include:
- Pancreas – this part of the body produces insulin, so it’s the first to be impacted by diabetes.
- Heart and vascular health – uncontrolled blood glucose levels weaken blood vessels throughout the body.
- Eye health – the weakened blood vessels can leak and bleed in the retina, leading to vision loss.
- Nervous system – it can create a tingling or numbness in the extremities.
Who Does It Affect?
Diabetes numbers continue to grow in the U.S., with about 13% of the population having it compared to 10% just a few years ago. A few other quick stats include:
- The number of people with diabetes has doubled in the last 10 years.
- 34% of the U.S. has prediabetes, meaning that their blood glucose levels are elevated enough to be concerning but not high enough for diabetes.
- In 2015, 30.3 million people had diabetes, but almost a quarter of them didn’t know.
- It affects ¼ of the 65+ population.
- It’s most common in African American, Alaska Native, American Indian, and Hispanic ethnicities.
What Can You Do?
There are several pre-emptive ways to help ward off diabetes.
- Know your family history. Your chances of getting diabetes are much higher if it runs in your family. Additionally, knowing your heritage can help determine your risk.
- Eat better. Nutrition plays a huge role in the development of type 2 diabetes. Be conscious of what you put into your body. Also, taking a vitamin designed to support vascular health can give your body the nutritional boost it needs.
- Exercise helps your body function its best far beyond muscle growth and endurance. It can help you sleep better, improve circulation, and balance your systems.
- Pay attention to your body. Knowing when something is “off” is half the battle. Listen to your body and see a doctor when something seems “off.”
- Make and keep annual appointments with your eye doctor. They can spot signs of diabetes in the eyes often before symptoms arise. Eye care providers identify about 25% of people with diabetes.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2017. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services; 2017.
- “Cystic Fibrosis-Related Diabetes.” Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, 10 Aug. 2016, www.cff.org/Life-With-CF/Daily-Life/Cystic-Fibrosis-Related-Diabetes/.
- “Eye Complications.” American Diabetes Association, American Diabetes Association, 1 Nov. 2013, www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/eye-complications/.
- “ICO Guidelines for Diabetic Eye Care.” International Council of Ophthalmology, Jan. 2017.
- “Symptoms & Causes of Diabetes.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1 Nov. 2016, www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/symptoms-causes.
- Solomon, Sharon D., et al. “Diabetic Retinopathy: A Position Statement by the American Diabetes Association.” Diabetes Care, American Diabetes Association, 1 Mar. 2017, care.diabetesjournals.org/content/40/3/412.
- “What Is Diabetes?” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1 Nov. 2016, www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/what-is-diabetes.
- “What Is Diabetes?”, Diabetes Research Institute Foundation, 2016, www.diabetesresearch.org/what-is-diabetes.
- “A Snapshot: Diabetes in the United States.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 7 Nov. 2017.