What You Should Know About Diabetes

No matter who you are, you probably have reason to be concerned about diabetes. Perhaps someone close to you — a family member or friend — is diabetic. Maybe you are worried about your chances for developing this all-too-common disease. Or you may even have diabetes.

Diabetes is a serious concern today; it’s the fourth leading cause of death by disease in the U.S. The good news is that diabetes is a manageable condition. Diabetics can improve their chances for a long and healthy life through early diagnosis and proper control of the disease. And those at risk can actually lower their chances of developing diabetes in the first place.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes affects the way your body turns food into energy.

Normally, during digestion, many of the foods you eat are changed into a type of sugar called glucose. Then the bloodstream carries the glucose through the body and, with the help of a hormone called insulin, the glucose is turned into quick energy or stored for future use.

With diabetes, something goes wrong with this process of metabolism — either your body does not make enough insulin or it cannot use the insulin correctly. Without the help of insulin, too much glucose builds up in the bloodstream.

The full name of the disease is diabetes mellitus, which is now thought to be a family of different diseases, all affecting the metabolism. There are two main types of diabetes:

  • Insulin dependent (or Type I): This is the type that many people think of when they hear the word “diabetes.” With type I, the body produces little or no insulin. So these people need daily injections of insulin, and must carefully balance their daily food and activities with their insulin shots to stay alive.
  • Non-insulin dependent (or Type II): This type is much more common, and includes about 90% of diabetics. With type II, the body produces some insulin, but somehow it doesn’t work well enough. The best way to fight this condition is to reduce the body’s demand for insulin through weight loss, exercise and dietary changes. Sometimes oral medication or insulin injections are also needed.

What are the health risks that come with diabetes?

Too much sugar in the blood can seriously damage blood vessels all over the body. If the diabetes is not controlled, a diabetic can develop life-threatening conditions such as heart problems, stroke, blindness, repeated infections, amputations, and kidney disease.

Who is most likely to develop diabetes?

Diabetes is not contagious. Though the exact causes of the disease are not yet known, researchers say that the risk of developing non-insulin dependent diabetes is higher for people who are:

  • overweight
  • forty years of age and above
  • diagnosed with high blood pressure
  • a close relative of someone with diabetes
  • Hispanic, African American or Native American

How do I know if I have diabetes?

Here are some of the common symptoms of diabetes, although very often there are no early warning signs at all.

  • increased thirst or hunger
  • frequent urination
  • blurry vision
  • unusual weakness & tiredness
  • slow-healing sores
  • sudden weight loss

People with non-insulin dependent diabetes may have these and other symptoms, or the disease can progress unnoticed for years.

With or without symptoms, diabetes is very easy to diagnose by testing the blood for glucose. If your glucose levels are consistently too high, you have diabetes. If you think you are at risk for diabetes, you should ask your doctor about being tested.

Can diabetes be prevented?

Many cases of diabetes can be prevented. Maintaining a healthy weight, eating foods low in fat and sugar, and getting regular exercise can help reduce your risk.

How much will diabetes change my life?

Diabetes requires some changes in lifestyle, but you can work these changes right into your daily routine. And new treatments are being developed all the time.

At the same time, we know that living with a chronic disease can be frustrating.

If you want to work toward a healthier lifestyle, you don’t have to do it alone. Simi Valley Hospital can help. Please call our us at (805) 955-6890 to find out about our free and low-cost health classes. We can also help you find a physician; just call Referral Services at (805) 955-6900.

Note: This is for information purposes only and not intended for use in place of the advice of a physician.