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Could you have diabetes?

Keeping diabetes at bay
Keeping diabetes at bay

No matter your risk factors, you can take steps to help avoid diabetes altogether. Strategies that improve your overall health like losing weight and improving your diet and exercise routine will lower your risk for diabetes and delay or prevent full-blown disease if you already have pre-diabetes or had gestational diabetes. You should:

  • Eat a well-balanced dietlow in fat and calories to help you achieve (and maintain) a healthy weight. If you’re overweight, even a 5 percent to 7 percent weight loss—only 10 to 14 pounds in a 200-pound person—can lower your risk by nearly 60 percent.
  • Increase physical activityto at least 30 minutes of exercise nearly every day to help control your weight, blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol and to reduce your heart disease risk. New guidelines say you’ll need to bump up your exercise to about 60 to 90 minutes a day to lose weight.
  • Follow your doctor’s guidelinesfor periodic blood glucose tests, medication or other interventions.

The danger of undetected diabetes
The danger of undetected diabetes

Undiagnosed diabetes means untreated and uncontrolled disease, a state that boosts your chance for complications like blindness, heart disease, stroke, kidney failure and limb amputations. Diabetes kills more than 200,000 people a year. Unfortunately, too many people go months or even years before their diabetes is detected. Sometimes there are no symptoms, but frequently, symptoms appear so gradually, they go unrecognized or are attributed to aging.

More than 20 million Americans already have diabetes, and experts estimate that nearly one-third of them are unaware they have the disease. Could you be one of them? Perhaps your body is trying to tell you something.

Although other conditions may be responsible for your symptoms, if you experience any of the following warning signs, talk with your healthcare provider:

  • unusual thirst
  • frequent urination
  • unexplained weight loss
  • increased hunger
  • blurry vision
  • irritability
  • tingling or numbness in hands or feet
  • frequent skin, bladder or gum infections
  • cuts or sores that don’t heal well
  • extreme, unexplained fatigue

Are you at risk?

Anyone can develop diabetes, but certain people face increased risk because of age, family history or an unhealthy lifestyle. You may be at risk if you:

  • are age 45 or older
  • are overweight or obese
  • get little or no exercise
  • have high blood pressure
  • have high cholesterol or abnormal cholesterol levels (HDL, or good cholesterol, of 35 or lower and triglycerides of 250 or higher)
  • gave birth to a baby weighing more than nine pounds or had gestational diabetes during a pregnancy
  • have a parent or a sibling who has diabetes
  • are of African-American, Native American, Hispanic, Asian or Pacific Islander descent

How can you tell if you have diabetes?

If you have any of the warning symptoms or risk factors, you should see your healthcare provider and ask about glucose testing. Anyone over age 45 should consider testing, as well as anyone younger who is overweight and has another risk factor. Your healthcare provider may order one of the following blood tests:

  • a random plasma glucose test,which measures your blood glucose (sugar) without regard to when you last ate. A positive result should be confirmed with a fasting glucose test.
  • a fasting plasma glucose test,which measures your blood glucose after you’ve gone at least eight hours without eating. Glucose levels of 99 mg/dL and lower are normal; 100 to 125 indicate pre-diabetes; and levels of 126 and higher indicate diabetes.
  • an oral glucose tolerance test,which measures your blood glucose immediately before and two hours after drinking a glucose solution. You must fast at least eight hours for this test. Glucose levels of 139 mg/dL and below are normal; 140 to 199 indicate pre-diabetes; and 200 and higher indicate diabetes.

What is diabetes?

When you eat, much of your food is turned into a sugar called glucose that circulates in your blood. A hormone called insulin, made in the pancreas, is essential to move glucose from your blood into your body’s muscle and fat cells where it’s either burned for energy or stored for future use. With diabetes, your body doesn’t make any or enough insulin or doesn’t respond normally to the insulin you do make. Either way, glucose doesn’t move efficiently from your blood to other body cells. As a result, glucose builds up in your blood while your body’s cells are starved for energy, causing fatigue and other symptoms and damaging blood vessels and nerves. Various forms of diabetes include:

  • Type 1 diabetes,which develops when the body stops making insulin. It occurs in 5 percent to 10 percent of Americans with diabetes. Although diagnosed most often in children and young adults, it can strike at any age. Because the body needs insulin to survive, the onset of type 1 diabetes tends to be dramatic with symptoms that are clearly noticeable.
  • Type 2 diabetes,which develops when the body makes insulin but not enough to be completely effective or in a way that the body isn’t responding to it. Type 2 is the most common type of diabetes and occurs in more than 90 percent of people with diabetes. Although age is a risk factor, more and more children and teens are developing the disease.
  • Gestational diabetes,a temporary form of diabetes that affects about 3 percent to 8 percent of pregnant women and usually disappears after the baby’s delivery. However, women who had gestational diabetes have a 20 percent to 50 percent chance of developing type 2 diabetes within five to 10 years.
  • Pre-diabetes,which occurs when blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Untreated, the condition often leads to full-blown type 2 diabetes within 10 years. About 54 million Americans already have pre-diabetes.

Are you at risk?

How can you tell if you have diabetes?

What is diabetes?