What You Need to Know About Diabetes
By DR. ERIN KANE and MIRIAM LOPEZ
Odds are you may have a loved one or a friend with diabetes, but you may be unaware that more and more people are being diagnosed with diabetes across the United States.
Diabetes is a group of diseases defined by the body's inability to control levels of sugar in the blood. Usually, the body turns food into glucose (sugar) that can be used for energy. Individuals who have diabetes either don't make enough insulin - or don't use it efficiently enough - for it to help the glucose get into the body's cells to be used as energy.
As a result, excess sugar builds. Over time, high blood sugar levels cause the pancreas to overcompensate to make insulin, which leads to permanent damage. Excess sugar in the blood also causes blood vessels to harden, which leads to severe circulation problems to the legs and feet.
A few of the most common symptoms of type 2 diabetes can include frequent urination, excessive thirst or hunger, weight loss, sudden vision changes, severe lack of energy and cuts that are slow to heal. However, some individuals with type 2 diabetes may exhibit no symptoms. Diabetes is extremely dangerous if left untreated and can raise the risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, blindness and other conditions.
While the disease can affect people of any age in any region, certain ethnic groups are more likely to be affected by diabetes than others. African-Americans and Hispanics are almost twice as likely to be affected by diabetes than non-Hispanic whites.
If you think you or a loved one are at risk for type 2 diabetes, there are four simple steps you can take immediately to help reduce your risk:
Stop smoking now: The CDC estimates that smokers are 30-40 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than nonsmokers. Smoking has also been found to raise blood sugar and damage the heart and blood vessels. If you smoke, Smokefree.gov can help you find a quitting plan that works for you. Share your goal with your family and friends to stay accountable and get the support you need.
Lose excess weight: According to The Obesity Society, individuals who are overweight have more difficulty controlling their blood sugar. In fact, nearly 90 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight. If you aren't sure whether or not your Body Mass Index (BMI) is within a healthy range, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has several online resources, including a free online BMI calculator that can help.
Exercise for 30 minutes at least five days a week: Walking, swimming and biking are all good exercises that are easy on the joints. It's also important to increase your overall movement: take the stairs instead of the elevator, park further away from your destination or get off the bus a few stops early.
You can also add a walk with your family after dinner and do sit-ups and lunges during TV commercials. Every little bit helps, so mix it up to stay engaged.
Eat healthy foods and limit excess sugar and processed meats: In particular, enjoy extra servings of leafy greens, such as spinach, romaine lettuce, collard greens and kale. Fresh fish, chicken and turkey are also good choices. It may be tempting, but just say "no" to pre-packaged snack foods, candy, high-sodium frozen meals and processed lunchmeats.
For many individuals, lack of access to safe exercise facilities or affordable fresh foods is a real barrier to making healthy choices. Luckily, the list of farmers' markets licensed to accept SNAP benefits is increasing steadily. Click here to find a list of farmers' markets near you that accept SNAP.
Making these simple steps a priority has made a big difference in the quality of life for many of our patients. Consistency is key, so make sure to talk to your doctor and loved ones to get the support you need to build and sustain healthy habits for the long haul.
Readers — Do you or anyone you know suffer from diabetes? How do you manage it? Do you follow any of the tips mentioned above to reduce your risk? Leave a comment below and let us know. For more content like this, sign up for the LIVESTRONG.COM newsletter.
Dr. Erin Kane is a family doctor at Baylor Scott & White Health in Dallas, Texas. She graduated from Loyola Stritch School of Medicine in Chicago and Thomas Jefferson Family Medicine Residency in Philadelphia. She currently works with underserved, chronically ill patients at a Baylor Community Care clinic. Additionally, Dr. Kane has been the primary investigator for the Diabetes Equity Project and the medical director for Community Care Navigation. These two programs utilize community health workers to help vulnerable patients access the care they need. Dr. Kane has a special interest in the development of community health workers as an emerging workforce in our health care system.
Miriam Lopez is a Community Health Worker at Baylor Scott & White Health in Dallas, Texas. She provides one-on-one self-management training for patients with a chronic disease, including diabetes.
To learn more about diabetes and the work of the Alliance to Reduce Disparities in Diabetes, please visit alliancefordiabetes.org.