What is diabetes?
Being aware of chronic conditions and making sure they are properly managed is more important than ever right now. Several chronic conditions can put us at risk for more severe infections, not just from COVID- 19, but from other infections such as flu and pneumonia. I’d like to go over some basics about diabetes, the different types, and what you can do if you or a loved one has diabetes.
Diabetes, also called diabetes mellitus, is a group of diseases that result in too much sugar in the blood or high blood glucose. Approximately 34 million Americans, which is just over 1 in 10, have diabetes. 88 million American adults, or approximately 1 in 3 have prediabetes (meaning blood sugar is higher than normal but not high enough to be called diabetes), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
When we eat food, it gives our body glucose which then needs to enter our cells for energy. Insulin is a hormone that helps the glucose into the cells. With type 1 diabetes, also called insulin dependent diabetes or juvenile diabetes, your body does not make insulin. Type 1 diabetes happens most often in children and young adults but can appear at any age. Type 2 diabetes, which is the more common type, your body does not process or use insulin well, leading to either not enough or too much. Without enough insulin, the glucose stays in your blood, elevating blood sugar levels. Over time, elevated blood sugar levels can cause serious complications to many different organ symptoms within your body. It can damage blood vessels, eyes, kidneys and nerves. Diabetes can also cause heart disease and stroke. When blood sugar stays elevated, it also thickens the blood (think sticky syrup consistency) and therefore it’s very hard for this thick sticky blood to reach many tiny blood vessels of the heart, eyes and kidneys. Pregnant women can also get diabetes, called gestational diabetes, which increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes later on.
Symptoms of diabetes can be present or sometimes there are no symptoms at all. Symptoms of both type 1 and type 2 include excessive thirst, urinating often, feeling very hungry or tired, unintentional weight loss, having sores or cuts that heal slowly, dry and itchy skin, blurry vision, and/ or numbness or tingling in the hands or feet. Because symptoms are hard to spot sometimes, it’s important to know the risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes. These risk factors include: having prediabetes, being overweight or obese, age 45 or older, having a parent, brother or sister with type 2 diabetes, being physically active less than three times per week, or ever having gestational diabetes. Certain ethnic groups are also at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes; including African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, or Alaska Natives.
Since the start of the pandemic, many of us have put off routine physicals and health screenings. If you’re someone who is overdue for bloodwork, now is a good time to catch up on it. Routine labs can screen for diabetes and prediabetes, by measuring a fasting blood glucose level. If this level is elevated, it’s time to speak with your doctor about further testing such as the A1C (or hemoglobin A1C) test. This test shows an average blood sugar level over the past three months. It also can show how well you are managing your diabetes if you’ve already been diagnosed. Exercise, weight control and sticking to a healthy diet can help control your diabetes. You should also monitor your blood glucose levels throughout the day and take all medications as prescribed. Also being aware of signs and symptoms of elevated blood sugar or low blood sugar is very important, as very high levels or too low levels will warrant emergency treatments at the hospital. For more information on diabetes, please visit the American Diabetic Association or speak to your doctor about seeing a certified diabetic educator.
Maria H. Drzaszcz, a Hammonton resident, is a registered nurse with 14 years critical care experience and is the proud mom of three young children.