A Look at Diabetes
Diabetes is a disease that results from the body’s inability to produce, or utilize, insulin properly. Insulin is the hormone responsible for converting carbohydrates like sugars and starches into useable energy (glucose), and allowing it to enter body cells efficiently. If diabetes is not treated properly, the disease can lead to numerous negative health issues, including death. Diabetes affects over 23 million people in the United States, and has become the fifth leading cause of deaths; contributing to over 230,000 U.S. fatalities a year. As the statistics rise, they still do not take into account the many other undiagnosed Americans with this disease.
Types of Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is often referred to as juvenile-onset or insulin-dependent diabetes. It develops during childhood and in some young adults, and accounts for around 8% of the diabetic population. It is caused by the body’s failure to manufacture the glucose-regulating hormone, insulin. There is currently no cure or method of prevention for Type 1 diabetes, but it can be treated with daily doses of insulin administered through injection or a pump. Warning signs for this type of diabetes include unusual thirst, frequent urination, extreme hunger and fatigue, abnormal irritability, and unexplained weight loss. As Type 1 diabetes may also be genetically inherited, further investigation into one’s family history of this disease is suggested.
With Type 2 diabetes, the body is capable of producing insulin, but the cells cannot use it properly (insulin resistance). This correlates into an increased demand for insulin, resulting in the gradual decline of this hormone’s production in the pancreas. People who have Type 2 diabetes may also experience blurred vision, reoccurring infections (e.g. skin, gums, bladder), prolonged healing time, or tingling/numbness in hands and feet. It is possible to have no major symptoms as well. Poor diet, obesity, physical inactivity, diabetic family history, older age, and race are factors that can influence the development of Type 2 diabetes. Although sometimes called adult-onset diabetes, its occurrence among children and adolescence is also starting to increase.
Gestational diabetes is an intolerance to glucose that develops during some pregnancies. This type of diabetic will usually require treatment during pregnancy to regulate her blood glucose levels, and reduce the risk of infancy complications. There is a slight chance that a mother may be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes after pregnancy, but up to a 60% probability that this disease will manifest over the next five to ten years.
Some surgeries, amputations, chronic infections or illnesses, drugs, and malnutrition may also contribute to the development of diabetes. People without a current a diagnosis can still acquire pre-diabetes if they maintain the characteristics and risk factors associated with diabetics. Pre-diabetes is a condition in which a person has a high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. These individuals are not yet considered diabetic, but have abnormally high blood glucose levels, and often maintain poor diets and obesity.
Testing and Diagnosis
A doctor may order diabetes testing for patients with health issues related to heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, or other certain diseases (e.g. kidney, nervous system, dental). American Diabetes Association recommends that individuals who are obese, over 45 years old, or meet other high-risk criteria for diabetes should be tested at least every three years. Those diagnosed with pre-diabetes should get their blood glucose checked every year, and follow the guidelines to prevent progression into Type 2 diabetes.
To determine diagnosis or risk of diabetes, a doctor will typically perform a fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test, or an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT). The FPG test is more commonly used, when applicable, because it is more convenient and economical. An OGTT requires ingestion of a glucose liquid, followed by a blood glucose check (after about two hours). As this analysis is more sensitive, the OGTT is usually used to determine gestational, and pre-diabetes. Both tests require eight hours of preliminary fasting, plus a second trial for the most accurate results.
Living with Diabetes
Regular physical activity and a healthy diet are two of the main lifestyle changes that will help manage one’s diabetes. A health care provider may recruit the support of a dietician to devise a customized eating plan to assist in regulating blood glucose levels. Along with increased physical activity, this diet may also accommodate other common health issues among diabetics by lowering bodyweight and blood pressure, while further decreasing the risk of diabetes progression. Moderate exercise can also reduce insulin resistance, and will have a positive impact on an individual’s body composition.
Managing diabetes with a few lifestyle changes is important, but it also requires the adherence to some specific guidelines. A diabetic must always regulate the carbohydrate content of eat meal (usually around 50 grams), as well as the total intake per day. This will prevent drastic fluctuations in blood glucose levels. Understanding nutrition labels, dietary content of foods, and maintaining a daily carbohydrate journal are effective techniques to help manage diabetes as well. A person with diabetes will also be required to monitor his/her blood sugar level at specific times throughout the day. Supplies for simple blood glucose testing can be obtained from a local pharmacy, and conveniently conducted in less than a minute. In more severe cases, an individual may also be prescribed an oral medication.
With the implementation of routine, moderate exercise; a healthy, diabetic diet; and scheduled, blood glucose testing; a person with diabetes can live a fulfilling life. Several diabetes support groups also exist, in which members can share experiences and provide useful feedback for each another. Support for the American Diabetes Association Research Program has increased to almost $43 million. Research of genetics, cell and immune biology, and other contributors to diabetes are ongoing to discover more effective treatments, prevention, and possibly a cure for this disease.