Living with Diabetes
Imagine what it would be like if your body lacked the ability to convert properly the foods you eat to give you the energy you need. For the more than 16 million Americans living with diabetes, that challenge is a daily reality. However, there are more options today than ever before to help those with diabetes lead healthy, active lives.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not produce or has trouble producing and using insulin. Insulin is a hormone that converts carbohydrates and other foods into the energy needed to fuel the body’s cells. It also “unlocks” these cells of the liver, muscles and other tissues to allow the body to store the nutrients produced. When someone has diabetes, excess glucose, or sugar, and valuable nutrients build up in the blood. The body loses the ability to use these nutrients, and their buildup in the blood stream ultimately can cause tissue and organ damage.
Type 1—With Type 1 diabetes, the body cannot produce insulin. This form generally occurs in young people or adolescents. Up to one million Americans have this form of diabetes.
Type 2—This is the most familiar type, totaling as many as 90 percent of all cases. Here, insulin production is limited or the body’s tissues are resistant to its absorption. Most people with Type 2 diabetes are diagnosed after the age of 45, and this risk increases significantly for those over the age of 55. However, modern fast-food and “couch potato” lifestyles also have led to an increase in the number of younger people, and even children, who are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Other important factors that help determine if someone will develop Type 2 diabetes are obesity, high blood pressure and a family history of the disease. Members of certain ethnic groups also are more likely to develop this form of diabetes, including African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans and Native Americans.
Gestational—This temporary form of diabetes sometimes occurs in women who are pregnant, but its symptoms frequently disappear after the birth of the child. However, women who develop this form of diabetes, in addition to women who give birth to babies weighing more than nine pounds, are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes later in life.
The first symptoms of diabetes often include frequent urination, excessive thirst or blurred vision, all caused by a buildup of glucose. Unfortunately, the other signs of diabetes—which can include fatigue, slow healing wounds or bladder and other infections—often go unrecognized until they’re combined with one of the more serious complications of the disease.
Having diabetes can make someone more likely to develop heart disease, blindness and kidney failure or to suffer from nerve damage or a stroke. When diabetes is not managed properly, these complications make it the seventh highest cause of death in the United States.
Today there are more options than ever before for treating diabetes. Some people find that they can reduce or eliminate their symptoms completely with proper diet and exercise. Others help their bodies produce or use insulin better by taking oral medicines. Those who cannot control diabetes through these measures, as well as those who have Type 1 diabetes, must take daily insulin injections to help maintain healthy blood glucose levels. Insulin can be taken with a syringe, insulin pen or by insulin pump therapy. Some individuals use a combination of therapies to manage their blood sugar levels.
See your doctor regularly
The proper treatment plan for diabetes requires a willingness to learn about the disease and its therapies, as well as a close partnership with your physician and care team. Without support, the complexity of managing diabetes can be difficult or frightening. If you have diabetes, see your primary care physician regularly so he or she can closely monitor your condition.
If you do not have diabetes, you should still see your primary care physician regularly since many people have the disease but don’t know it. Regular checkups can help detect diabetes in its earliest stages, before serious complications arise.