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Everything You Need to Know About Living with Diabetes

According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), approximately 62 million people in the Americas are living with diabetes. Learning how to manage diabetes is a process that can take time, however following doctor’s orders and changing unhealthy lifestyle habits can lead you to live a relatively healthy life. Follow this helpful guide to learn how to identify, prevent, and manage the symptoms of this chronic condition.

Keep in mind: If you suspect that you have or are at risk of developing diabetes, don’t hesitate to consult your doctor immediately. A simple drop of blood can be the key to an early diagnosis.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects the body's ability to process blood sugar — glucose — which is the fuel for the cells in our bodies. Cells need a hormone called insulin to put that fuel compound into good use.

There are three types of diabetes, and they all share one thing in common: the inability of the body to produce or process insulin adequately. These conditions cause chronic hyperglycemia (high blood sugar levels), and they can have several adverse effects on our health and quality of life.

What Are the Different Types of Diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes

A body with type 1 diabetes — also known as diabetes mellitus —doesn’t produce insulin. Treatment for type 1 diabetes incorporates the use of regular insulin injections, which are needed to process glucose correctly.

Type 2 diabetes

Someone with type 2 diabetes produces less insulin than their body requires. If left untreated, this condition can then progress into a decreased insulin response (the body can't use insulin even when it's present). Just a few decades ago, this type of diabetes affected adults almost exclusively; however, its presence in children has increased steadily. 

Type 2 diabetes can be controlled and even cured with a healthy diet and regular exercise, however many patients require additional treatment. Your doctor may prescribe drugs to help your body use insulin more effectively if your lifestyle modifications aren't enough. Type 2 diabetes accounts for approximately 85% to 90% of all diabetes cases.

Gestational diabetes

The third type of diabetes develops exclusively in pregnant women as a result of changing their eating habits and becoming more sedentary — all factors associated with pregnancy. 

This type of diabetes usually disappears after giving birth, however women who have gestational diabetes are at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. 

Who’s at Risk of Developing Diabetes?

Although the causes for type 1 diabetes are unknown, science has identified many risk factors for type 2 diabetes, some of which are modifiable, treatable, and even reversed under certain conditions. Clinical studies have demonstrated that diabetes is related to poor nutrition, a sedentary lifestyle, and obesity.

Hispanics, Native Americans, and African Americans are more susceptible to type 2 diabetes. You can also be at risk if you have family members with type 2 diabetes, suffer from high blood pressure, have alterations in your lipid metabolism, or were diagnosed with gestational diabetes during pregnancy.

Keep in mind: According to statistics from American Diabetes Association (ADA), Mexican Americans were the leading demographic group in diagnosed diabetes cases among Hispanic adults:

  • 14.4% of Mexican Americans 
  • 12.4% of Puerto Ricans
  • 8.3% of Central and South Americans 
  • 6.5% of Cubans

What’s prediabetes?

Prediabetes occurs when the body’s sugar levels are high, but not high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes. In the presence of prediabetes, there’s an increased risk of suffering from other conditions such as heart disease, a stroke, and developing type 2 diabetes.

It’s important to note that prediabetes can go unnoticed. However, you can learn how to identify the risk factors associated with this condition and seek treatment early. Here are a few things to look out for, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Having a Body Mass Index (BMI) above normal values — calculate your BMI here
  • Being over 45 years of age
  • Having parents or siblings with type 2 diabetes
  • Having a sedentary lifestyle, which the CDC describes as being physically active less than three times per week
  • Having had gestational diabetes or having given birth to a baby weighing more than 9 lbs
  • Having polycystic ovary syndrome

Keep in mind: The CDC estimates 88 million adults in the United States have prediabetes and are likely to end up living with diabetes if they don’t take the necessary measures.

What Are the Symptoms of Diabetes?

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One of the most damaging characteristics of diabetes is that it can go undetected for an extended period of time. As we mentioned, many diabetes cases can be managed or even reversed with diet and an active lifestyle. Early diagnosis is key to getting treatment sooner and improving your chances of slowing down or even stopping its adverse effects. 

One of the most common symptoms of inadequate diabetes control is hyperglycemia (high blood sugar levels). Other symptoms include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Abnormal hunger
  • Weight loss
  • Blurred vision
  • Fatigue or drowsiness (even if you have slept well)
  • Irritability
  • Susceptibility to infection
  • Impaired wound healing 

Hyperglycemia can be caused by inadequate diabetes care or by total lack of treatment (in the case of individuals who do not know they have diabetes). High blood sugar levels can lead to a severe state of loss of consciousness known as a diabetic coma.

For individuals already taking insulin, it’s very important to know the symptoms of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels). Hypoglycemia can be caused by an insulin overdose, increased physical activity, or lack of food. Some of its symptoms are:

  • An irregular or fast heartbeat 
  • Sweating
  • Dilated pupils
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Weakness
  • Slurred speech
  • Hypoglycemic brain damage (in extreme cases)

What Are the Consequences of Not Treating Diabetes?

Poor diabetes care or lack of treatment can cause damage to many organs in the body, such as:

  • Eyes
  • Kidneys
  • Heart
  • Blood vessels
  • Nerves

If left untreated, diabetes can lead to blindness, heart and kidney disease, limb amputation, brain damage, and even death.

How to Manage Diabetes

Hyperglycemia associated with diabetes can be controlled with insulin, oral hypoglycemic agents, a proper diet, and exercise.

Living with diabetes type 1 requires routine insulin injections throughout your life to survive. People with type 2 diabetes often need hypoglycemic medication and insulin as well on certain occasions.

Living with Diabetes

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Diabetes treatment consists of maintaining blood sugar levels stable to prevent the development of further complications. Recent studies have shown that if you live a healthy lifestyle and follow the treatments indicated by your doctor, you can keep diabetes under control.

Here are a few other recommended ways you can manage your diabetes:

  • Monitor your blood sugar levels before each meal
  • Measure carbohydrate consumption to know how much insulin and/or exercise you need
  • Visit your doctor, nutritionist and endocrinologist periodically
  • Get labwork done every year to monitor your diabetes

Living with Diabetes Requires Your Full Commitment

Remember, the best way to manage your diabetes is to adapt to a healthier diet, exercise, and follow your doctor's medical instructions. We understand this condition can be challenging, but with a consistently healthy lifestyle, you’ll be able to live a long and prosperous life.