Diabetes, a Silent but Dangerous Disease
Whether you know it or not, diabetes is most likely a part of your life. Diabetes affects individuals of all races, ages, and body types and is estimated to be occurring twice as often as it did 10 years ago. That means there’s a good chance that yourself, a family member or friend have been affected by this disease in some way or fashion. Not convinced? Continue reading.
A Too-Familiar Disease
Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects your pancreas. According to the Arizona Department of Health Services (AZDHS) almost 10% of Hispanics and Latinos in Arizona, have been diagnosed with diabetes — that’s almost one out of every ten people!
Before being diagnosed with Diabetes, there is a stage where the disease can be prevented. This stage is called prediabetes. The bad news is that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) one out of three people in the state of Arizona, much like the rest of the country, are unaware of this. The chances get greater when you consider that one in four Arizonans are considered obese, and diabetes is, as AZDHS states, “inextricably tied” to (meaning impossible to separate from) obesity and physical inactivity.
Whether you have diabetes or not, always keep in mind that a long and satisfying life is entirely possible after a diabetes diagnosis. In order to know how to avoid or manage diabetes, let’s look at what diabetes is and how it affects your body.
Type 2 Diabetes
The pancreas is a gland, and that gland produces a hormone called insulin. The insulin is needed for your body to process sugars, which gives you energy. Problems start when your body does not properly use the insulin your pancreas offers. Your blood glucose (sugar) levels start to go up and you become prediabetic.
During the prediabetic stage, you may not have obvious symptoms. But there are specific factors that may cause you to develop diabetes. Jazmín Hernandez, Health Educator with Esperança, named them.
“If you’ve been diagnosed with prediabetes,” said Hernandez, “diagnosed with diabetes during pregnancy [gestational diabetes], if you have close family members diagnosed with diabetes, if you are overweight, if you have a lack of physical activity or if you eat a nutritionally unbalanced diet (too many carbohydrates), then you may have a high probability of developing the disease”.
If you don’t make healthy changes, you have a 50% probability of developing type 2 diabetes within five to 10 years, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Once you are diagnosed, you’ll have to live with it for the rest of your life because there is no cure. Here are the symptoms you may experience if you have diabetes:
- Weight loss
- Slow healing
- Blurred vision
- Hyperpigmentation (dark areas on your skin)
- Constant thirst
- Frequent urination
- Constant hunger
Type 1 Diabetes
There is another type of diabetes that is not caused by lifestyle, but you are born with it. It’s called type 1 diabetes. Symptoms show anywhere from two to 21 years old. Hernandez said the symptoms for type 1 diabetes are like those of type 2, but sometimes parents miss the warning signs.
“When kids are tired or have a headache,” Hernandez said, “it’s common to associate those symptoms to something else: Maybe the kid didn’t sleep very well, or they are growing and need to sleep more. These types of general symptoms could go on for a while until something worse happens — they could faint. Then they go to the doctor, and they’re diagnosed with diabetes.”
Not knowing you have diabetes is dangerous. AZDHS states diabetes “is linked to many serious health complications, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, high blood pressure, blindness, kidney failure, neuropathy [pain or numbness in nerves] and amputations.” And diabetes will cost you money in health and medication bills.
The CDC states, “People diagnosed with diabetes incur on average $16,750 annually in medical expenses.”
With this in mind, you can understand the importance of an annual check-up for everyone in your family. A yearly check-up is one of the main ways to prevent diabetes (see list below).
Not the End of the World
Is there life after a prediabetes or diabetes diagnosis? Yes!
“I have patients that are telling me after they’ve been diagnosed with diabetes that it’s one of the best things for them to have happen,” Hernandez said. “They recognized they were doing everything wrong in their lives. They felt like they couldn’t move and were tired all day. After they were diagnosed, they took action, and they feel more energized and are doing the right things. They still have a chance to live a good life.”
Living with diabetes is manageable, and avoiding or delaying prediabetes is totally possible when you incorporate the following proven lifestyle changes recommended by the National Institutes of Health.
- Start with small changes to your lifestyle
- Move more
- Choose healthier foods and drinks most of the time
- Lose weight and keep it off
- Seek health support from your doctor
- Stay up to date on vaccinations
“If you are overweight,” Hernandez said, “you have to work on that. When you’re overweight, your body won’t use the insulin your pancreas produces correctly. Introducing activity into your life will be the main issue here, too. Do physical activities that you enjoy to burn sugar, which will make you feel stronger.”
Adhering to a balanced diet doesn’t necessarily mean giving up your favorite meals. But it does mean introducing nutritious foods to your daily menu.
“For example,” Hernandez explained, “I’m from Mexico. In Mexico and Latin American countries, corn is the main source of food — for centuries. We can’t get rid of it. ‘Oh, I know this has a lot of carbohydrates,’ I hear, ‘but I always eat a tortilla with my food. I cannot eat my food without a tortilla.’ You can’t tell them not to eat that food, but they can balance that tortilla with healthy foods like vegetables.”
Also watch your level of stress, alcohol consumption and stop smoking. Research has linked all of these to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. If you already have diabetes, you may have a harder time managing it with high stress levels.
The best way to avoid or manage diabetes is to take action. Manage your stress, watch your weight, exercise and make sure you and your family have an annual check-up.
“The biggest percentage of this is your action,” Hernandez said. “Not the medicine and not the doctor, but your action. And you must make those decisions to work with the doctors and a dietician, increase your physical activity, and take care of your mental health. Those are four things that will help you have a better life.”
Do you know what your blood sugar levels are? If not, take a moment today to make an appointment with your doctor and find out. If you know you are diabetic or have prediabetes, work with your healthcare provider and community resources to help you manage the disease.
Need a doctor? Visit www.equalityhealth.com/members to find one near you.
Published in Prensa Arizona, 11/25/2021