Diabetes is a prevalent disease hampered by a lot of misconceptions, one being that it’s not all that serious. The unpleasant truth, according to Sue McLaughlin, the former president of healthcare and education at the American Diabetes Association (ADA), is that diabetes causes more deaths than breast cancer and HIV/AIDs. Yet people with the most common form —type 2 diabetes—are prone to ignoring or downplaying their symptoms, which can result in months, sometimes years without a diagnosis.
First, let’s break down the two types.
Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition wherein the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Without insulin, sugar can’t be converted to energy. This type is more likely to appear during childhood, but it can develop later stages, so it’s important to know the signs.
Type 1 diabetes symptoms, courtesy of the Mayo Clinic, may include:
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Extreme hunger
- Unintended weight loss
- Irritability or mood changes
- Fatigue or weakness
- Blurred vision
It’s important to note that these symptoms can appear suddenly, so if you experience any of the above, it’s never a bad idea to get yourself checked.
At this time, type 1 diabetes has no cure, though research efforts remain heavy and focused. Those people with type 1 diabetes manage the disease by stabilizing blood sugar levels and making diet or lifestyle changes.
Type 2 diabetes is much more common. This condition causes blood sugar levels to rise to higher-than-normal levels. Like type 1 diabetes, insulin is a factor, though in this case, it’s a matter of insulin not being used properly, resulting in insulin resistance. Your pancreas will make more insulin to account for the deficit at the start, but over time just can’t keep up.
According to the CDC, more than 84 million Americans—that’s 1 in 3—have prediabetes, which occurs as a lead-up to type 2 diabetes. Prediabetes is a condition in which your blood sugar is high, but not high enough to be called type 2 diabetes. At this stage, it’s still possible to stave off a type 2 diabetes diagnosis with diet and lifestyle changes.
Type 2 diabetes symptoms mirror the symptoms of type 1, with a few key differences. However, even if you don’t have these symptoms, you might have type 2 diabetes. You can actually have the disease for years without knowing, so it’s important to have your blood rested on an annual basis to make sure your glucose levels are in check.
- Excessive/increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Increased hunger
- Unexplained weight loss (particularly of concern if you are eating more)
- Blurred vision
- Slow-healing sores or frequent infections
- Patches of darkened skin (usually in the armpits and neck)
There are several risk factors for type 2 diabetes, but these are largely misunderstood. One being that eating too much sugar causes diabetes. While McLaughlin advises people to moderate their sugar intake, she stresses that, by itself, consuming too much sugar will not cause diabetes.
Other misconceptions include body weight. While obesity does increase your risk of developing diabetes, there are many overweight people who remain diabetes-free.
Other risk factors include being 45 or older, have low activity levels, or a family history. High blood pressure and cholesterol is another warning sign.
So what is the good news?
First, if you have prediabetes, there is still time to reverse it. But even though type 2 diabetes can be deadly—particularly if neglected—it can be managed and contained. Advanced Family Medicine can help you live with diabetes (type 1 or 2, and at any stage) through our disease management programs. Through cooperation and education, we help patients reclaim their health and, in doing so, their life.
If you have diabetes, prediabetes, or are concerned you may be at risk, visit Advanced Family Wellness, and we’ll get you on the path to a healthier you.