According to the CDC, about 10 percent of the US population have diabetes. But this number may be grossly underestimated since many remain undiagnosed. Sadly, they are more likely to know they have the condition once the symptoms appear. By then, they cannot reverse it. The most that they can do is to manage the disease.
Diabetes leads to many complications, some of which can be life-threatening in the long run. To avoid dealing with these health problems, get to know more about this disease.
What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic metabolic condition wherein the pancreas fails to produce insulin or the body fails to effectively use it. Insulin is a hormone that plays a significant role in how we produce cellular energy.
When we consume food, such as carbohydrates, the body breaks it down and converts it into glucose (or blood sugar), which the insulin then delivers to cells. Our cells then use it for various metabolic processes for our survival.
When a person has type 2 diabetes, the cells become less sensitive to insulin, so glucose stays in the blood, causing increased glucose levels. When the pancreas senses this, it only pumps more insulin. Over time, as the condition is left untreated, the organ and the cells that produce it become damaged, leading to abnormal production of insulin.
For people with type 1 diabetes, however, it’s a different story. The body’s own immune system attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin that it doesn’t produce the hormone at all. For this reason, this type of diabetes gets diagnosed while the individual is still young.
In some cases, blood sugar levels become significantly elevated during pregnancy. Also known as gestational diabetes, it occurs because of hormone fluctuations that affect how the body metabolizes or uses substances like insulin. Another possible risk factor is weight gain.
What Are the Symptoms of Diabetes?
- Excessive thirst
- Frequent urination, especially at night
- Extreme hunger, even when not hungry or loss of appetite
- Fatigue and weakness
- Dry mouth
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blurred vision
- A feeling of numbness in the feet
- Slow-healing sores or frequent infections
- Bone pain
- Sudden weight loss
- Unusual or smelly urine
Uncontrolled diabetes is one of the primary risk factors for various conditions, particularly heart disease, stroke, hypertension, and chronic kidney disease (CKD).
People with diabetes are more likely to have inflammation in their blood vessels, which can make them more susceptible to plaque buildup and cause the arteries to become less flexible.
Diabetes can also cause a decrease in blood flow due to fatty deposits or plaque build up, narrowing or hardening of blood vessels, and changes in blood viscosity – thickness – that clog arteries and restrict proper circulation.
Meanwhile, both heart disease and hypertension are risk factors for CKD. Both can damage the blood vessels in the kidneys.
Diabetes leads to neuropathy or nerve damage, which can lead to shooting pains and numbness. It also affects nerve function that can impair sensation and affect balance, as well as blindness.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Diabetes
If you have any of the symptoms above, it’s best to consult with your health care provider. Diabetes can be diagnosed through a few tests you can get from an urgent care clinic, but they vary depending on the type of diabetes:
- A1C Test: This tests your glycosylated hemoglobin or how much glucose sticks to your red blood cells over time.
- Urinalysis: This checks for protein, ketones, and glucose levels.
- Fasting Plasma Glucose: This measures your blood sugar levels after fasting for at least 8 hours.
- Random Plasma Glucose Test: Just as it sounds, this measures a one-time random blood sugar level you might have during the day.
The doctor may also require other tests to complement the ones above. These include lipid profile, renal function, and thyroid tests.
If you have diabetes, you cannot reverse it anymore. However, the doctor can provide you with many ways to delay the progression of the disease:
- Medications: Many drugs can help lower or manage your blood sugar levels. These include metformin for type 2 diabetes and insulin shots for type 1.
- Diabetic Diet: You need to control your carbohydrate intake because carbohydrates trigger a rise in blood sugar levels. You may also need to eat your meals at certain intervals to avoid glucose spikes.
- Exercise: This is another way to normalize blood sugar levels. It also helps you lose weight, which may slow down the progress of diabetes complications.
- Weight Loss Surgery: A type of bariatric surgery that limits how much your stomach can hold, this is for individuals who are obese and have diabetes.
Diabetes is a serious condition, which can be fatal if untreated. That’s why it’s important that you take any signs of diabetes seriously and consult your health care provider as soon as possible.