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Diabetes is a chronic health condition resulting from the body’s inability to effectively produce or process insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. High blood sugar, formally known as hyperglycemia, results from unmanaged diabetes. If left untreated, diabetes has the potential to damage nerves, blood vessels, and organs throughout the body. The condition is one of the leading causes of heart attacks, strokes, blindness, organ failure, and limb amputation worldwide.
Unfortunately, the prevalence of diabetes is on the rise. In 1980, 4.7% of the global population suffered from the condition. As of 2014, 8.5% of individuals worldwide were considered diabetic.
Though not all types of diabetes are preventable, many cases can be avoided. Read on to learn more about risk factors, symptoms, and methods for preventing this disease.
Diabetes: Types & Risk Factors
There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes.
In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce enough insulin on its own. As a result, type 1 diabetics must take insulin on a daily basis, usually via injection or a pump. In most cases, the condition become apparent during one’s youth. The cause of type 1 diabetes is currently unknown, making it impossible to prevent the condition.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. The condition, which most often arises during adulthood, results from the body’s inability to use insulin effectively. In the majority of cases, this form of diabetes is preventable. Type 2 diabetes generally results from poor lifestyle choices, such as eating an unhealthy diet and maintaining a sedentary lifestyle.
Gestational diabetes is a form of hyperglycemia that occurs during pregnancy. Though blood glucose levels fall below the levels required for a type 2 diagnosis, expectant mothers with the condition are at risk for developing type 2 in the future. Though the cause of gestational diabetes is not officially known, leading a healthy lifestyle may reduce one’s risk of developing this condition.
Prediabetes: Signs & Symptoms
Millions of individuals worldwide are prediabetic. Individuals with prediabetes have blood glucose levels that are higher than ideal but fall below the diagnostic range for type 2 diabetes. In prediabetes, the body is already producing too little insulin or is responding to insulin improperly. Though individuals suffering from prediabetes are already at an elevated risk for experiencing other health problems, such as heart disease and stroke, these risks can be lowered. With proper lifestyle changes, most individuals can avoid becoming diabetic.
Unfortunately, prediabetes is often symptomless. Though family history and genetics appear to play a role in the development of prediabetes and diabetes, excess body fat and being physically inactive seem to play even bigger roles in triggering the condition. Being over the age of 45, having previously had gestational diabetes, or having polycystic ovary syndrome may also put one at greater risk for developing prediabetes. If you believe you might be prediabetic, ask your doctor to test your blood glucose levels. By getting screened, you can learn whether or not you are at risk for a diabetes diagnosis.
Diabetes: Signs & Symptoms
Individuals who are already suffering from diabetes and don’t know it are likely to be experiencing symptoms. Increased hunger and thirst are two notable symptoms of the condition. Excess hunger is the result of the body’s cells struggling to absorb sugar due to a lack of insulin. Extreme thirst is correlated with elevated blood sugar levels, as well as excessive urination, another common symptom of the disease. Urine output increases as a result of the kidneys’ inability to manage high blood glucose levels. As a result, sugar is leaked into the urine, triggering further urine output.
The skin is also commonly affected by diabetes. Dark patches of skin in the groin, armpits, or neck, formally known as acanthosis nigricans, may signal a problem. Itchy skin and wounds that are slow to heal may also be red flags. Researchers also believe that there may be a connection between certain infections, such as staph and yeast infections, and diabetes. Though skin problems aren’t a definitive indicator of diabetes, such dermatological symptoms should be discussed with a healthcare professional.
Untreated diabetes can affect the body in other ways, too. If undiagnosed for an extended period of time, diabetic neuropathy may develop, resulting in numbness or tingling in the limbs, fingers, and toes. Elevated blood sugar levels may also cause fluid to move to the lens of one or both eyes, resulting in blurred vision that may come and go. The mouth and gums may also become sensitive or infected. Unexpected weight loss, most commonly seen in type 1 diabetes, or weight gain may also result from untreated diabetes. Other, more general symptoms, such as digestive problems, fatigue, and sexual dysfunction may also be triggered or worsened by the condition.
Though going to the doctor is rarely a fun experience, it’s important to make an appointment with a general practitioner if you are experiencing the aforementioned symptoms. Nearly a third of adults with diabetes don’t know that they have it! By getting screened, you can easily find out whether or not you have prediabetes or diabetes. If diagnosed, you can begin taking the necessary steps towards improve your health.
Though type 1 and gestational diabetes may, in many cases, be impossible to prevent, almost everyone can reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Eating less sugar and fewer fast-digesting carbs, for instance, have been shown to significantly lower one’s chances of developing insulin resistance. Drinking water, coffee, and tea as opposed to sugary beverages and eating healthy portions of minimally-processed, high-fiber foods are also important disease-avoidance tactics.
Frequent exercise, ideally at high intensity levels, has also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity. Simply being less sedentary is another way to reduce one’s risk. Individuals who actively choose to stand more and sit less are more likely to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Leading a healthy lifestyle, including eating well, sleeping enough, quitting smoking, and maintaining a healthy body weight are ultimately the most powerful means of reducing one’s risk of developing diabetes. Though diabetes is not always preventable, maintaining one’s health makes the condition much more avoidable.
It can be difficult to be honest with ourselves regarding our health. If you lead a sedentary lifestyle, are overweight, smoke, or eat a less-than-ideal diet, consider asking your doctor to screen your blood glucose levels.
If you are diagnosed with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, your physician will likely recommend lifestyle changes as a means of treatment. Eating more healthily and exercising more frequently can reduce symptoms and prevent diabetes from getting worse. Regular blood sugar monitoring, as well as medication or insulin therapy, may also be offered depending on one’s treatment plan.
Though eating healthily and getting in shape can be challenging, taking such steps can significantly reduce your risk of developing diabetes as well as a number of other health conditions. Whether or not you’re diabetic, commit to a healthy, active lifestyle today.
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