Diabetes is a condition in which the body’s pancreas is not able to produce enough of the hormone insulin to control glucose or sugar in the blood, or is resistant to the actions of insulin. This results in chronically elevated blood glucose levels. Family history, your age and lifestyle choices can put you at risk for developing diabetes.
November is Diabetes Awareness Month in the U.S. and on Nov. 14th, countries around the world observe World Diabetes Day. More than 37.3 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, and over 96 million have been diagnosed with prediabetes. Here are 5 things you should know about diabetes, including diabetes symptoms to look out for and what you need to know about this condition that affects so many people.
1. How to know if you have diabetes: Common symptoms
The two main types of diabetes are Type 1 and Type 2. Both types of diabetes result in elevated blood glucose levels. In the short run, elevated blood glucose causes diabetes symptoms such as:
- Blurry vision
- Dry skin
- Excessive hunger
- Excessive thirst
- Excessive urination
- Frequent illness
- Numb or tingling hands and feet
- Slow wound healing
- Weight loss
Over time, elevated blood glucose can damage the heart, brain, blood vessels, nerves, kidneys and eyes. Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
2. Type 1 diabetes symptoms
Type 1 diabetes, formerly called “juvenile diabetes” or “insulin-dependent diabetes,” is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks cells in the pancreas so they’re no longer able to produce insulin. Without insulin, the body can’t properly metabolize or store glucose. While Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age, it’s most commonly diagnosed in children and young adults.
Symptoms of Type 1 diabetes include elevated blood sugar but may also involve nausea, vomiting or stomach pain. Symptoms tend to start and become severe quickly. Immediate medical attention is required if you believe you have Type 1 diabetes.
3. Type 2 diabetes symptoms
Type 2 diabetes happens when tissues throughout the body become resistant to insulin, forcing the pancreas to produce more and more insulin in an attempt to overcome the resistance.
Eventually, the pancreas is unable to keep up with the increased insulin demand, and blood glucose levels rise to unhealthy levels. Type 2 diabetes is much more common than Type 1, accounting for more than 90% of all cases of diabetes in the U.S.
Type 2 diabetes takes a long time to develop, and the symptoms are typically not as immediately severe as Type 1. Regular blood screenings are the best way to monitor any changes in blood sugar readings.
4. Gestational diabetes symptoms
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that happens during pregnancy in women who don’t already have diabetes. While all women develop some insulin resistance during pregnancy, women with gestational diabetes tend to become overly resistant to insulin, leading to elevated blood sugar.
This type of diabetes can lead to complications for the infant and mother during delivery. It increases the risk of developing diabetes later in life for the infant and mother.
This type of diabetes does not have any symptoms, but blood sugar screening is a regular part of pregnancy care.
5. People at risk of diabetes
Risk factors for the different types of diabetes vary, but we know that genetics and family history play a significant role in the development of all types.
Type 1 diabetes
Patients with a parent or sibling with Type 1 diabetes have an increased risk of developing diabetes. If both parents have Type 1 diabetes, their child has a 25% increased risk of being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, too. In addition to genetics, geography is another risk factor. The farther from the equator people live, the higher their risk of developing Type 1 diabetes is (though researchers don’t yet understand why.)
Also, there tend to be two peaks of the disease in childhood. Most children are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes between ages 4-7 or 10-14.
Type 2 diabetes
The most common risk factor is being overweight or obese. In fact, 90% of people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes have a BMI of 25 or higher. Other risk factors include a family history of the disease, being age 45 or older, having hypertension (high blood pressure), being sedentary and having a history of gestational diabetes.
Here are a few frequently asked questions about diabetes:
What lifestyle modifications can help with diabetes?
When it comes to Type 1 diabetes, patients can reduce complications of the disease by closely monitoring their blood glucose levels and taking the appropriate amount of insulin. Reducing the intake of simple carbohydrates can prevent harmful blood glucose spikes.
Patients with Type 2 diabetes can also improve their blood glucose by minimizing their intake of simple carbohydrates. Weight loss and exercise can also lower the complications of Type 2 diabetes.
In some cases, patients have been able to reverse the condition and eliminate the need for medication when they make healthy lifestyle changes.
What are diabetes treatment options?
Fortunately, an array of medications are available to treat diabetes. Insulin is the mainstay of Type 1 diabetes treatment. It can also be used in patients with severe Type 2 diabetes when oral medications don’t adequately lower their blood glucose.
Some diabetes medications delay the absorption of carbohydrates, which can prevent spikes in blood glucose levels. Others stimulate the pancreas to release more insulin. Another medication called metformin increases the body’s sensitivity to insulin and decreases the amount of sugar absorbed by the intestines.
What is a diabetic coma?
A diabetic coma is caused by uncontrolled extremely high blood sugar. Too much glucose in the blood causes the release of substances called ketones. When there are too many ketones in the blood, this causes diabetic ketoacidosis, an alteration of the pH levels of the body. If left untreated, a more acidic pH can lead to coma and death.
Visit urgent care if you are displaying diabetes symptoms
Our urgent care centers can help screen for and manage symptoms of diabetes. We are also in-network with many other providers and specialists who can provide ongoing diabetes treatment and support.
For immediate care at one of the conveniently located urgent care centers, just save your spot online, walk in, or schedule a virtual visit. We are here 365 days a year, seven days a week, to help you feel your best.
Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant