According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 34 million Americans live with diabetes. While diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death, one out of five people don’t even know they have it.
In addition, diabetes is the number one reason for lower-limb amputation, adult blindness, and kidney failure.
Uncontrolled diabetes can wreak havoc on the body, but there are ways to manage this condition to live a healthy life.
What is diabetes?
The food we eat is often broken down into sugar (glucose) and released into the bloodstream, causing our blood sugar to increase. As blood sugar rises, it signals our pancreas to release a hormone called insulin. Insulin plays a pretty significant role in the body by:
- controlling the amount of glucose in the bloodstream
- helping store glucose in your liver, fat, and muscles
- enabling the body to turn food into energy
- regulating the body’s metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins
Diabetes is a chronic health condition that either prevents the body from making enough insulin or prevents it from using the insulin the way it should. As a result, too much blood sugar stays in the bloodstream and doesn’t get to the cells, causing complications to the body.
Symptoms and complications of diabetes
Some people experience symptoms so mild that they are unnoticeable.
Common symptoms of diabetes can include:
- Frequent urination
- Excessive hunger and thirst
- Extreme fatigue
- Blurry vision
- Slow-healing cuts/bruises
- Weight loss (prevalent in type 1)
- Tingling, pain, or numbness in the hands/feet (common in type 2)
Unmanaged diabetes over an extended period puts you at a higher risk of developing other serious health issues. Diabetes complications can be disabling and life-threatening.
Complications of diabetes include:
- Cardiovascular disease- coronary artery disease with chest pain (angina), heart attack, stroke and narrowing of arteries (atherosclerosis), stroke
- Nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy)
- Kidney damage (nephropathy)
- Eye damage (retinopathy)
- Foot damage
- Skin conditions
- Hearing impairment
- Alzheimer’s disease
Complications for women with Gestational Diabetes and their babies during pregnancy include:
- High blood pressure
- Miscarriage or stillbirth
- Congenital disabilities
However, properly managing your diabetes with correct treatments and lifestyle changes can prevent or delay the start of complications.
Types of diabetes
There are three main types of diabetes:
- Type 1 Diabetes- An autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack and destroy the cells in the pancreas that make insulin, so the body can’t produce insulin. People with Type 1 Diabetes (also called Juvenile Diabetes) are usually diagnosed in childhood/as young adults and need insulin every day to survive.
- Type 2 Diabetes– This disease causes the body not to use insulin efficiently (insulin resistance). As a result, your pancreas produces more insulin until it can no longer keep up with demand, forcing production of insulin to decrease and higher blood sugar.
- Gestational Diabetes- Occurring during pregnancy, this condition results from insulin-blocking hormones causing insulin resistance. Although Gestational Diabetes usually goes away after the baby’s birth, postpartum women have a 50% chance of developing Type 2 Diabetes.
Prediabetes occurs when blood glucose is more elevated than normal, but not high enough to be diabetes.
Causes and risk factors of diabetes
Each type of diabetes comes with its own causes and risk factors.
The cause of Type 1 Diabetes is unknown for the most part. However, it’s believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
You are most likely to develop Type 2 Diabetes if you have a family history of the disease, are overweight or obese, have an inactive lifestyle, are Prediabetic, or have had Gestational Diabetes during pregnancy.
Pregnant women are at higher risk of developing Gestational Diabetes if they are over the age of 25, have a family or personal history of the disease, or are overweight before becoming pregnant.
Tips for managing your diabetes
Tip 1: Learn as much as you can about diabetes and your condition
Whether you have been living with diabetes for years, recently received a diagnosis, or have risk factors and want to take preventative measures, gaining insight into diabetes and its complications, understanding blood sugar numbers, and how to make healthy lifestyle choices are all key to managing the condition.
Several resources are available to help you learn everything you need to know about diabetes. Reach out to your local health care team, hospital, or area health clinic for classes available in your community. Consider joining an in-person or online support group for peer support. The internet also has various websites to offer help. The National Diabetes Education Program is an excellent place to start!
Tip 2: Develop a plan that works for you
It can be overwhelming, stressful, and frustrating to find out you have diabetes, no matter what type. But creating a day-to-day plan that works for you can help you stick to it, manage your diabetes successfully, and be the healthiest version of yourself.
Some things to keep in mind:
- Managing stress= managing diabetes- Stress can raise your blood sugar. Find ways to lower your stress with activities you enjoy such as gardening, yoga, meditating, listening to music, deep breathing, going on a hike, etc.
- Having someone to talk to when you feel depressed or anxious, like a therapist, support group, or clergy member can make a huge difference in helping to manage your stress.
Tip 3: Eat well
A healthy diet makes for a healthy life, with or without diabetes. However, if you have diabetes, you need to know which foods affect your blood sugar levels. Create a diabetes meal plan using the following as a guideline:
- Focus on making meals that are lower in calories, saturated fats, trans fats, sugar, and salt.
- Include foods with more fiber. Look for the word “whole-grain” on labels and packaging.
- Replace juice and soda with water
- Alcohol can increase blood sugar, so it’s best to drink sparingly and when you have control over your blood sugar numbers.
- Take into consideration the glycemic index for “good carbs” vs. “bad carbs”.
- Know how much you should be eating- The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases suggests filling half the plate with fruits and vegetables, one quarter with a lean protein (beans, chicken, or turkey without the skin), and one quarter with a whole grain ( brown rice or whole-wheat pasta).
Your physician can also make recommendations on which foods to eat and avoid. They may also refer you to a Diabetic Dietitian who specializes in meal plans for those living with diabetes.
Tip 4: Get active
Exercising every day or multiple days a week has many health benefits. It can help you manage stress, sleep better, lose weight if needed, maintain a healthy weight, control blood pressure and blood sugar, and lower the risk of heart disease and nerve damage.
Important reminders for physical activity with diabetes:
- Stay hydrated
- Have a snack or glucose tablets with you if your blood sugar level drops too low
- Check your blood sugar levels before, during, and after
- Create an exercise schedule that coordinates with your meals and medications
Always talk to your doctor before beginning any new exercise plan or program. They can advise you of what your blood sugar levels should be before you start exercising and what time of day you should aim for.
Tip 5: Know about medication options
Diabetic medications, such as insulin, are designed to lower blood sugar levels when diet and exercise control diabetes. However, timing, dosage amount, and side effects should be closely monitored to ensure the medication is working correctly.
When it comes to diabetes medicine, you should:
- Properly store insulin- It’s critical to know that insulin is sensitive to extreme temperatures and is not as effective after its expiration date.
- Report side effects to your doctor- Whether your diabetic medication is causing your blood sugar to drop or skyrocket, your physician needs to know.
- Use caution with new medications- Drug interactions can happen, so ask your pharmacist or doctor about possible adverse effects.
Medications for other health conditions can also affect your blood sugar levels. Be sure to let your doctor and pharmacist know all current medicines you are taking, including over-the-counter, vitamins, and supplements.
Diabetes is manageable with the right combination of diet, exercise, medications, and lifestyle changes. Speak with your doctor about the best options to stay healthy with diabetes. Other health care professionals that can also help are your dentist, eye doctor, foot doctor, mental health counselor, pharmacist, and dietitian.
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