Are You at Risk for Diabetes?

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on May 8, 2007 · 0 comments

Every 24 hours, 4,100 new cases of diabetes are diagnosed in the US.

What is diabetes?
When you have diabetes, there is too much sugar in your blood. People with diabetes either don’t make enough insulin—the substance that helps sugar get from the bloodstream into cells to be used for energy—or their cells don’t recognize insulin.

What causes diabetes?
In most cases, it’s your genes. Seven percent of the US population (almost 21 million people) has diabetes. It’s estimated that a person born in 2000 has a 1 in 3 chance of developing diabetes in their lifetime. But, the good news is that lifestyle choices can alter the action of your genes. Just because you carry the risk for diabetes doesn’t mean you will get it. People who stay slim, exercise regularly, don’t smoke, and eat generally healthy diets decrease their odds of developing diabetes no matter what their genetic profiles say. And, people with diabetes can control the condition, and in some cases even reverse it, with lifestyle changes.

What puts a person at risk for diabetes?
The risks of developing diabetes increases with each of the following that apply to you:

• Being 45 or older
• Being overweight
• Having a parent or close relative with diabetes
• Being African American, American Indian, Asian American, Pacific Islander or Hispanic/Latino American
• Having diabetes during pregnancy
• Giving birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
• Having high blood pressure
• Having high cholesterol
• Exercising very little or not at all

What are the symptoms of diabetes?
Diabetes often goes undetected for a long time because many people have no symptoms, or they ignore symptoms because they seem harmless. See your doctor if you experience any of the following problems.

• Being very thirsty
• Needing to urinate frequently
• Being very hungry
• Weight loss without any effort
• Feeling tired and weak
• Blurry vision
• Cuts and bruises that heal very slowly, or do not heal at all
• Tingling or numbness in your hands or feet
• Recurring or hard-to-heal infections
• Annoying itching

How is diabetes diagnosed?
Your doctor screens for diabetes and other health issues when you have blood tests. Everyone over the age of 45 should be screened. If everything is normal, screenings should be repeated every 3 years. Children and those younger than 45 should be tested if they are overweight or have any of the risk factors noted above.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form; 90% to 95% of people with diabetes have type 2 and the number of people with this condition is increasing daily. Approximately 50% of men and 70% of women who develop type 2 diabetes are overweight. Weighing less could delay the onset and in some cases prevent the condition entirely. Experts believe that as time goes on more and more people, even children, will develop type 2 diabetes because so many people are overweight and inactive. Type 2 is managed by lifestyle changes, diet, weight loss, and when needed medication and possibly insulin.

Type 1 diabetes used to be called juvenile diabetes because most people developed it in childhood or early adulthood, but it can occur at any age. Only 5% to 10% of people with diabetes have type 1. It develops when something happens to destroy the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. A person with type 1 cannot make any insulin and must supply it daily by injection, through an insulin pump, or in a newly approved inhaled form. There is no known way to prevent type 1 and it cannot be reversed.

Gestational diabetes occurs only during pregnancy and usually disappears after the baby is born. Being overweight or having a family history of diabetes can increase a woman’s risk. To prevent problems, all pregnant women are tested for pregnancy diabetes. It their blood sugar levels are too high they are taught to adjust their food intake and may be given insulin until their baby is delivered. Having pregnancy diabetes increases a woman’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the next 5 to 10 years.

If you think you are at risk for diabetes, get tested.

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