Diabetes 101: What You Should Know

November 15, 2018

Diabetes is one of the biggest health issues facing Americans today.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 30 million people in the U.S. have diabetes.  That's one in 10 Americans.  One in four of those who have the condition don't even know they have it.  These are troubling statistics, particularly because diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.

What is diabetes?  Who is at risk?  How can it be prevented?  Here is a quick primer.  Diabetes is a chronic condition that develops when the body's ability to make or use insulin - a hormone that is critical for allowing blood sugar into cells for energy - is compromised.

"It's important to understand this condition and get proper treatment for it right away because when your body's insulin process is compromised, too much blood sugar remains in your bloodstream," says Ali Burtraw, registered dietician at Colorado Plains Medical Center.  "When this happens, it can lead to heart and kidney disease, as well as vision loss - all of which can seriously impact your overall health and quality of life."

There are three main types of diabetes.  Type 1 diabetes results when the body stops making insulin altogether.  Symptoms tend to develop quickly, and those with Type 1 diabetes take insulin every day to make up for the body's inability to do so.  Risk factors of Type 1 diabetes include family history and age since the condition is primarily found in children, teens, and young adults.  There currently is no known way to prevent Type 1.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body has difficulty maintaining normal blood sugar levels due to an inability to use its insulin properly.  Nine out of 10 people with diabetes have Type 2.  Risk factors include:  having pre-diabetes; being overweight; being age 45 and older; having an immediate family member with Type 2 diabetes; being physically active less than three times a week; having a medical history of gestational diabetes; or being African-American, Hispanic/Latino American, American Indian, or Alaska Native.

The good news is that Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed.  Committing to positive lifestyle changes like eating healthy foods, engaging in regular physical activity, and losing weight if overweight can help an individual stay on the path to good health.

Gestational diabetes in females results when the body goes through changes during pregnancy.  While gestational diabetes typically goes away after the baby is born, it can increase the risk for Type 2 diabetes later in life for the mother or baby.  Risk factors include:  a previous history of gestational diabetes; having previously given birth to a baby weighing 9 or more pounds; being overweight; being older than age 25; having a family history of Type 2 diabetes; having a hormone disorder called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS); being African-American, Hispanic/Latino American, American Indian, Alaskan Native, or Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.

Symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Frequent urination (often at night)
  • Being very thirsty and/or hungry
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Blurry vision
  • Numb or tingling hands or feet
  • Fatigue
  • Very dry skin
  • Sores that are slow to heal
  • More infections than usual
  • Nausea, vomiting, or stomach pains (Type 1)

When symptoms appear depends on the type of diabetes in question.  Type 1 symptoms can develop fairly quickly and be severe while Type 2 symptoms tend to develop over time and, in some cases, aren't noticeable at all.  Gestational diabetes typically occurs in the middle of the pregnancy period without noticeable symptoms.

"Becuase of the tricky nature of diabetes symptoms, it's important to talk to your healthcare provider about your risk factors and ask if getting tested is right for you," Burtraw says.  "A simple blood sugar test can determine whether or not you have diabetes.  If you do, your provider can work with you to create a treatment plan and suggest positive lifestyle changes to help protect your long-term health and wellness."

Colorado Plains Medical Center also has a newly formed diabetes support group, No Limits.  The free support group meets on select Monday evenings from 5:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m. at Colorado Plains Medical Center's Upper Level Training Rooms.  Dates and topics for these meetings are listed on the hospital's website calendar of events or can be requested by contacting Burtraw at 970-542-3321 for a brochure.