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Monday, November 21, 2011

Diabetes Awareness Month

November is Diabetes Awareness Month, when a spotlight is shined on this disease to make as many people aware of it as possible. It is also a perfect time to learn more about the disease that kills more people each year than breast cancer and AIDS combined. More people get diagnosed with diabetes each year, and it is predicted that a third of adults will have the disease within the next 40 years. By being aware of the disease and it's symptoms, treatments, and prevention, it is possible to stop the advance of diabetes and live a healthier, longer life.

What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes, technically called diabetes mellitus, is a metabolic disease in which the blood contains high levels of glucose, or blood sugar. Insulin is a hormone that is naturally produced by the pancreas, and it is supposed to control a person’s blood glucose levels. When a person’s blood sugar gets too high, or too low, it can cause the processes of the body to be off. Blood sugar is a measurement that shows what your blood sugar level is at this moment, and A1C levels show how well blood sugar has been controlled over the past six to eight weeks.
A1C measures the percentage of HbA1c (a form of hemoglobin) in the blood, which gives a bigger picture of how well your diabetes is being controlled. It is an average over time, as opposed to a single measure that is given when checking blood sugar.
Of the several different types of diabetes, three of them are the most common.
Type 1, or DM1: If you have this type, your body does not produce insulin. You must take insulin daily to control your blood sugar. This type is usually diagnosed early in life, prior to adulthood. It is also known as juvenile diabetes.

Type 2, or DM2: Type 2 diabetes is characterized by insulin resistance or decreased insulin production. Your body makes insulin, but it is either not enough, or it is not processed effectively enough to control blood sugar. 

Gestational diabetes (GDM): A glucose tolerance test is usually given around 24 weeks of pregnancy to diagnose GDM. The hormones produced by the body during pregnancy affect the way insulin is processed, similar to Type 2 diabetes. This type of diabetes can usually be controlled with diet but occasionally requires insulin. Thankfully, this type of diabetes usually resolves after delivery. 

Risk Factors
A primary risk factor in all types of diabetes is genetics. A family history is a strong predictor of your risk for the disease. Other uncontrollable risk factors include age, race, and a history of gestational diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is more prevalent in African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and Native Americans.
As daunting as those risk factors may seem, there are risk factors you can influence in order to lessen your chance of getting diabetes. These factors primarily relate to lifestyle and health choices. An inactive lifestyle and being overweight are significant risk factors you can control. Exercise, healthy
eating, and getting enough sleep are important steps in prevention. Other factors that can be influenced are high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol levels. Making an effort to control your blood pressure and cholesterol may be a little more difficult, but it will be worth the effort if it prevents diabetes.

There are several important symptoms to watch for if you are at high risk for diabetes: frequent urination, increased thirst, blurred vision, excess hunger, numbness or tingling in the extremities, slow healing, unusual weight loss, and unusual fatigue or lethargy. If you think you may have these symptoms, see your doctor to get tested. Uncontrolled diabetes can have severe consequences for your health. 

There is no cure for diabetes. It is a lifelong disease that must be treated, and it can be well controlled with the appropriate treatment. Blood sugar and A1C levels must be kept within normal limits. A normal blood sugar reading generally should be under 200 mg/dl, and A1C should be below 7 percent. For gestational diabetes, blood sugar is usually recommended to be under 120 mg/dl. Different cases may have different recommendations and will be individualized by your doctor based on the severity of your diabetes. 

The biggest control factor for diabetes is diet. A diabetic should eat to control carbohydrate intake. Simple carbs can spike blood sugar and cause a crash later. Your doctor will provide a list of recommended foods and timing of meals to prevent this. Exercise is also important for controlling blood sugar. Just a short walk can do wonders for bringing down blood sugar levels. You can also work with your doctor to come up with an exercise program to control your diabetes. 

Insulin is the next step in treating diabetes. Insulin is available in oral or injection forms. Oral is the first choice, with the injection being used when that does not work. Type 1 diabetes is almost always treated with insulin, and Type 2 when other treatments are not effective. 

In diabetics who are overweight or obese, weight loss is an extremely effective treatment. In some cases, treatment is no longer needed once weight loss is achieved and maintained. If this were to happen, diet and exercise must be continued, but it is possible that insulin would no longer be needed. This can only happen under the strict supervision of a doctor. 

Diabetics also need to pay careful attention to other parts of their body. Since diabetes reduces blood flow, your hands and especially your feet will need more care than usual. Neuropathy, or nerve damage, is common. If uncontrolled, it can cause permanent damage and numbness in your feet. Oral care is also important. Since diabetics are more prone to infections, gum disease can develop quickly. And since both oral hygiene and diabetes are risk factors for cardiovascular disease, your oral health is very important.
Being diagnosed with diabetes mellitus can be overwhelming at first, but with the right support and education from your doctor as well as your family and friends, it can be controlled and not be a huge burden.
Your lifestyle may change, but it will be for the better, and it will also provide more energy and a longer life. If you have any questions or concerns, contact your doctor or a diabetes specialist in your area.

American Diabetes Association:
PubMed Health:

Post submitted by Erin from The Mommies Network's Content Team

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