Diabetes is an increasingly common disease in which an individual’s blood sugar becomes elevated over a prolonged period of time. Your blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels are too high. Glucose comes from the foods you eat. Insulin is a hormone that helps the glucose get into your cells to give them energy. Insulin helps lower blood sugar – for example, it is released after meals or sugary snacks. Over time, your body can lose its ability to respond to insulin and lower its blood sugar, resulting in diabetes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), diabetes is an epidemic that currently affects over 30 million Americans, a number that is forecast to rise to nearly 55 million people over the next decade. Additionally, it’s estimated that 84 million Americans (1 in 3 adults) have prediabetes, a condition where the blood sugar is elevated, but not yet high enough to cause diabetes. With this in mind, it’s important to know if you could be at risk for diabetes, how to lower your risk and prevent diabetes, how and when to be tested for diabetes, and how diabetes is treated.
Over time, having too much glucose in your blood can cause serious complications. It can damage your eyes, kidneys, and nerves. Diabetes can also cause heart disease, stroke and even the need to remove a limb. Pregnant women can also get diabetes, called gestational diabetes.
Blood tests can show if you have diabetes. One type of test, the A1C, can also check on how you are managing your diabetes. Exercise, weight control and sticking to your meal plan can help control your diabetes. You should also monitor your blood glucose level and take medicine if prescribed.
Some examples of risk factors individuals don’t have control over:
Age – the chance of developing diabetes increases as we grow older, and it is more common in individuals over the age of 45
Race/Ethnicity – Individuals of African American, Hispanic/Latino American, American Indian or Alaska Native descent are at higher risk of developing diabetes (some Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans are also at higher risk)
Genetics — Individuals who have parents or siblings with diabetes are also at increased risk of developing diabetes themselves
The good news is that many of the risk factors for diabetes can be controlled. Some examples of risk factors individuals DO have control over are:
Weight — individuals who are overweight or obese are at increased risk of developing diabetes
Diet — individuals who eat a lot of processed or sugary foods increase their risk of developing diabetes
Activity — individuals who get limited to no physical activity or exercise are also at increased risk of developing diabetes
What Can I do if I Am at Risk of Diabetes or Prediabetes?
There are several ways to find out if you are at increased risk of getting prediabetes or diabetes. First, a medical provider, such as your primary care physician, can assist in reviewing your risk factors and determine if you should be tested for diabetes. There are also tests available online that can help you determine if you are at increased risk. The CDC offers this easy-to-complete online screening tool that just takes a few minutes, and will help determine if you are at increased risk for diabetes and should discuss getting tested with your doctor.
How do I Lower My Risk of Getting Diabetes?
The most important risk factors you can change to lower your risk of developing diabetes include managing your weight, diet and activity level. At first, making these changes can seem overwhelming, but it’s important to know that even small changes can have a big impact on your risk of developing diabetes. For example, if you are overweight or have prediabetes, losing even five to 10 percent of your body weight can reduce your chance of developing diabetes by over half!
Other lifestyle changes that can reduce your risk of developing diabetes include:
Skip the elevator and take the stairs
Take a 20-minute walk during your lunch break or after dinner
Take up an active hobby such as gardening
At the grocery store, park in the back of the lot far away from the entrance to get in extra steps
If you have joint pain or arthritis, take up exercise or walking in the pool
Cut down on soda – keep a bottle of cool water or unsweetened tea at your desk
Skip the fast food – wake up 10 minutes earlier than normal and take the time to pack a nutritious, healthy lunch
Use smaller plates – it’s a great way to control portion size when eating
It’s important to set small, achievable goals, and to remember that it doesn’t take huge or drastic lifestyle changes to have a positive impact on your health. Your healthcare team at SouthwestMed can also help you identify your risk factors and create an achievable plan to help reduce your risk!
Should I Get Tested for Diabetes
You may be wondering, ‘If I am at increased risk for getting diabetes, what is the next step? Is there a test I can take to see if I have diabetes?’ If you are concerned about diabetes, or believe you are at increased risk, you can discuss this with your SouthwestMed provider, and together they can help you determine the next steps. If you and your provider determine you should be tested, it will only require a simple blood test to determine if you may have prediabetes or diabetes. The first step is to schedule an appointment with your primary care provider.
What Treatment Options are Available for Prediabetes and Diabetes
The good news is that there are many available treatments for diabetes which work to lower your blood sugar, and prevent complications like infections, nerve damage, heart disease and kidney disease. Many of the lifestyle changes that can reduce your risk of developing diabetes are also effective in treating diabetes. There are also additional treatment options available to discuss with your SouthwestMed provider, such as meeting with a dietician to learn more about healthy eating, and medications. Medications can include pills, as well daily injections such as insulin, your healthcare provider will be able to help determine what medications will work best for you.