One of the most common chronic conditions in the US is diabetes – a disease in which blood sugar levels (blood glucose) is too high and the body does not make enough (or any) insulin to help regulate it. The pancreas is responsible for creating the insulin hormone, which helps glucose from food make it to their cells to be converted into energy.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 100 million Americans are classified as having diabetes or prediabetes. Prediabetes is essentially a warning sign that someone is on the path to diabetes, although people may experience no symptoms from prediabetes.
There are three main types of diabetes: Type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes.
Type 1 Diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease characterized by a total lack of insulin production in the body due to the immune system attacking the cells in the pancreas. It is inherited and normally shows up in children or young adults. People with this type of diabetes must take insulin everyday to stay alive.
Type 2 Diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is not inherited. The body is either unable to make insulin or is unable to use insulin correctly. This type of diabetes can develop at any age, although middle-aged to older adults are generally the ones who receive a diagnosis. Lifestyle factors like diet, exercise and smoking can all play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes.
Gestational diabetes. This form of diabetes occurs in some pregnant women and generally goes away once the baby is born. People who develop gestational diabetes face a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.
Signs and Symptoms of Diabetes
Identifying diabetes as early as possible is key for helping to prevent future complications. The common signs and symptoms for diabetes include:
- Frequent urination
- Insatiable thirst
- Insatiable hunger despite eating a lot
- Extreme fatigue
- Blurred vision
- Weight loss despite eating more food (specific to type 1 diabetes)
- Numbness, tingling and pain in the hands and/or feet (specific to type 2 diabetes)
Gestational diabetes often comes with no symptoms, so it’s important for at-risk women to consult with their doctor throughout their entire pregnancy about the potential presence of this form of diabetes.
Potential Complications of Diabetes
Over time, having consistently high blood sugar can lead to a different health problems, including:
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Vision issues
- Dental disease
- Nerve damage
- Foot problems, sometimes requiring amputation
Your doctor will generally recommend lifestyle changes and strict adherence to medication regimens as the best way to lower the risk for any of these conditions.
Treatment and Management of Diabetes
Although diabetes is a common disease, each individual patient has their own unique needs. There is no cure for diabetes, but your physician can help you learn to manage the condition and maintain a healthy life. You will need to stay on top of and track your A1C levels,
Controlling blood sugar levels is the main priority in diabetes treatment and management, as this helps to stave off any future complications associated with the health condition. Type 1 diabetes is primarily managed by insulin along with diet and exercise changes, while type 2 diabetes can be controlled with both insulin non-insulin medications as well as weight reduction and dietary adjustments.
Medications for type 2 diabetes have a few different treatment mechanisms. They may increase insulin sensitivity or glucose excretion, decrease absorption rates of carbohydrates, or another mechanism that can control blood sugar levels. When deciding which medication is most appropriate for your specific individual type 2 diabetes needs, your physician will take into account:
- The effectiveness and side effect profile associated with each type of medication
- Your underlying health status and any possible comorbid conditions
- Any issues you may have complying with your prescribed medication regimen
- Costs to either you or the health system
Keeping with a diabetes-healthy diet is a crucial aspects of controlling blood sugar and thus diabetes. A few factors are taken into consideration when considering an ideal diabetic diet, including the type and amount of carbohydrates consumed as well as the fiber, fat and protein content of each food. Glycemic index and glycemic load are also important.
Foods that have a low glycemic index and load increase blood sugar more slowly when consumer than high glycemic index and load foods. Examples of low glycemic foods include:
- Non-starchy vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
- Beans and legumes
- Yogurt and other fermented dairy
- 100% whole grains
- Healthy fats
- Quality protein
Avoiding sugary foods and starchy carbohydrates can help to keep glucose in check.