November 22, 2020

Understanding Diabetes: Its causes, symptoms, tests and treatment

Diabetes is a chronic health condition that affects more than 34 million adults in the United States, and is the seventh leading cause of death. One in five individuals are unaware they have diabetes. It is also the leading cause of kidney failure, lower limb amputations and adult blindness. People living with diabetes are also at increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

There are two main types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2. Other types include gestational diabetes which is pregnancy induced.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, where the patient’s own immune system destroys the cells that make insulin. These patients must take insulin in order to survive.

In Type 2 diabetes, your body doesn’t use insulin well and cannot keep blood sugars at normal levels. Type 2 diabetes is the type that impacts 90 to 95 percent of people. Having a first degree relative with Type 2 significantly increases your risk.

Symptoms of diabetes include excessive thirst, frequent urination, hunger, fatigue, blurry vision and unexplained weight loss.

Most of the time diabetes can be diagnosed by a simple blood test, including A1C which measures your average blood sugar over the past three months. Patients with diabetes are more likely to get high blood pressure and should have it monitored. Diabetes can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke, making it important to have your cholesterol tested at least once every year. Patients with diabetes should also follow up with their eye and foot exam every year. It’s also important to stay up-to-date with immunizations including pneumonia and annual flu vaccinations.

There isn’t a cure for diabetes, but lifestyle modifications like losing weight, eating healthy foods and being active can assist Type 2 diabetes patients in controlling the blood glucose. Patients with Type 2 diabetes are often obese and can improve their ability to control the disease by losing seven to 10 percent of their body weight. It also helps patients with prediabetes to avoid developing Type 2 diabetes.

Technological advances offer much promise in management of diabetes. The goal is always to keep the disease under control by taking medicine as needed, getting diabetes self-management education and following up with your health care appointments.

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Information provided by Dr. Geeti Mahajan, board-certified endocrinologist with Pascack Valley Medical Group.


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