We all know that 2020 has been a year like no other. Surging COVID-19 cases and the impending flu season mean that now is the time to make sure we are taking the best care of ourselves to prevent illness and improve our chances of recovery should we get sick. Underlying health issues can increase our risk of complications and death from COVID-19. Therefore, we not only have to wear face masks, socially distance and wash hands frequently, but also control our pre-existing health issues.
One of the most common of those pre-existing conditions is diabetes, and November is Diabetes Awareness Month. More than 34 million Americans have type 2 diabetes. Unbelievably, of that 34 million, about 7.3 million Americans are walking around with undiagnosed type 2 diabetes. This means that their glucose levels are high, but they have never been technically diagnosed by a physician and therefore, are going untreated. Type 1 diabetes, most often diagnosed in children, adolescents and young adults, affects another 1.6 million Americans.
What is diabetes? Diabetes is a condition where the body has trouble controlling glucose (sugar) levels in the body. We need glucose, which is our main energy source for our body to function properly, but too much can cause problems. We also need insulin, which is a hormone that makes sure glucose levels don’t get too high. With diabetes, that is exactly what happens. Our bodies can’t make enough insulin, or don’t use it properly to keep blood sugar levels controlled.
We mostly get sugar from what we eat. Foods high in sugar or carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta, potatoes, fruit, sweets and milk, make our blood glucose levels go up. If our body can’t release any or enough insulin, our blood glucose levels remain high, causing problems. When diabetes goes undiagnosed or uncontrolled, serious health complications may occur, including heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, amputations and death.
There are also 88 million Americans 18 and older that have a condition called pre-diabetes, where elevated glucose levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be considered diabetes. Those glucose levels, along with other risk factors, are increasing their chances of developing diabetes if not addressed. Most of those 88 million people are unaware they have pre-diabetes.
For that reason, it is incredibly important to pay attention to the risk factors for type 2 diabetes. Risk factors include, but are not limited to the following:
• Being over 40 years old.
• Being overweight.
• Family history of diabetes.
• Not being active.
• History of gestational diabetes.
• Certain ethnic groups (African American, Hispanic/Latino American, Asian American, American Indian, Pacific Islander, and Alaskan Native).
If you would like to know what your risk is, you can take a simple risk test at www.diabetes.org/risk-test.
It’s important to know what to watch for in identifying warning signs of diabetes. Some people may have very obvious signs; others may be less noticeable. Signs and symptoms of diabetes include:
• Increased thirst.
• Feeling very hungry.
• Frequent urination.
• Blurry vision.
• Unexplained weight loss.
• Dry skin/rashes.
• Sores that are slow to heal.
• Loss of feeling or tingling/numbness in the feet.
Weight loss, physical activity and eating healthy are key interventions to both controlling existing diabetes and preventing type 2 diabetes. This doesn’t necessarily have to mean drastic changes.
For instance, research shows that for those who are overweight, losing just 5-7% of body weight can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58%. This means for a person who weighs 200 pounds, a 10 pound weight loss (5% of their body weight) would be very beneficial.
Next, when it comes to physical activity, we have to move more. It is recommended to get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week, which can sound like a lot, but this could be done just by adding 20-25 minutes of activity to each day. Adding in a couple short walks during the day will quickly add up. Always remember that any activity is better than none!
Lastly, healthy eating is one of the most important aspects of preventing type 2 diabetes, and many other health problems. This can be as simple as cutting down on portion sizes. Forgoing the “biggie” meals and turning down seconds are just an example of how portions can be improved. Limiting foods high in carbohydrates, drinking more water and eating more non-starchy vegetables can also be helpful in improving our eating habits.
In addition, those who have diabetes should be regularly checking their blood sugars, as well as meeting with either their diabetes educator, or primary care provider on a regular basis.
If you, or someone you know, has diabetes or thinks they might have diabetes and would like more information, you may call the Trinity Diabetes Center at 515-574-6350, to find out how we can help.
Amanda Pratt, RN, is a diabetes educator and wellness coach at UnityPoint Health — Trinity Regional Medical Center.
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