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November is Diabetes Awareness Month

America’s obesity epidemic is far from over, and its effects have become clear. Diabetes, which is commonly caused by obesity, has taken its place as one of the most prevalent medical conditions. Almost 30 million Americans have diabetes, and another 86 million have prediabetes, making them at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. It is projected that unless we take drastic steps to stop diabetes, as many as one in three American adults will have it by 2050. Diabetes is a disease in which the body either does not make enough insulin (Type 1) or cannot use its insulin as well as it should (Type 2), resulting in sugar building up in the blood and blood glucose levels rising above normal. Symptoms include (but are not limited to) frequent urination, excessive thirst or hunger, tingling or numbness in hands or feet, sudden vision changes, sores, fatigue, and very dry skin.

Health Risks

Diabetes can cause numerous health problems, the most serious one being heart disease. People with diabetes are twice as likely as those without it to suffer from a stroke or heart attack, and do not always experience the usual signs or symptoms of heart attacks that make them easier to catch and treat in the early stages.

Kidney disease is another complication of diabetes that can be difficult to catch early on. The kidneys contain millions of blood vessels that remove waste products from the blood, and diabetes can damage the system. This damage can result in kidney failure, leading patients to need drastic and costly measures such as dialysis or kidney transplants. Almost half of all cases of kidney disease are due to diabetes.

Diabetes also causes more than half of all amputations that occur in adults. Peripheral arterial disease (PAD), which is often found in people with diabetes, reduces blood flow to the feet. Additionally, many people with diabetes also experience nerve disease which reduces sensation. The PAD and nerve disease make people much more susceptible to getting foot ulcers and infections that have difficulty healing. Ultimately, this can lead to amputations of the feet and even parts of the legs.

As with many chronic diseases, diabetes can severely impact mental and emotional health. Diabetes management is a scrutinous process, as people have to constantly check glucose levels, take medications, exercise, carefully monitor their diet, and handle stigma or feelings of personal guilt and shame. Those with diabetes are more likely than those without it to develop depression, a mental health disease that can just as crippling as diabetes itself.

Prevention

Currently, there are no preventive measures for Type 1 diabetes. Fortunately, 95% of diabetes are Type 2, which is often preventable. In order to decrease the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, it is important to:

• Maintain a healthy diet. Being overweight or obese is a significant risk factor for developing diabetes. The Mayo Clinic recommends eating foods that are high in fiber and are made of whole grains

• Become physically active: In addition to weight loss, physical activity can cause a healthy decrease in blood sugar and can boost insulin sensitivity, making it easier to keep blood sugar within a normal range. The official recommendation for exercise is thirty minutes, five times per week.

• Quit- or at least cut back on- the cigarettes. Smokers are 30-40% more likely than nonsmokers to develop diabetes, and the risk gets higher with increased frequency of smoking

• Check in with your doctor regularly if you are at risk. If you have high blood pressure, a family history of diabetes, abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels, or polycystic ovary system, you may be at a higher risk level for developing diabetes. Additionally, there is an increased risk in people who are black, Hispanic, American Indian or Asian-American.

Organizations such as the American Diabetes Association are working diligently to solve America’s diabetes problem. The “America Gets Cooking to Stop Diabetes” initiative aims to “engage and inspire people to live a more active and healthier lifestyle,” and focus the nation’s attention on the dangers of the disease.

To learn more about the “America Gets Cooking to Stop Diabetes” initiative, visit http://www.diabetes.org/in-my-community/american-diabetes-month.html.

To learn more about diabetes, visit http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/basics/definition/con-20033091.

Filed under: Awareness, Diabetes

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