The CDC reports that more than 30 million Americans currently suffer from diabetes. Many people don’t understand the cause of diabetes, or how one can develop the disorder. In essence, diabetes is an abnormality of human metabolism or the way in which our bodies utilize digested food for energy and growth. There are three main types of the condition, including Type 1, Type 2, and gestational diabetes, which develops in pregnant women. Those with Type 1 diabetes are usually born with it, while Type 2 can progress through a number of risk factors such as a poor diet, lack of exercise and family history. Let’s first take a closer look at who is at risk of diabetes and the symptoms before focusing on the complications that can occur once you have been diagnosed.
Who is At Risk for Diabetes?
Type 1 Diabetes
As previously discussed, this type usually begins during adolescence, but not always. Your pancreas is either unable to, or permanently stops making insulin. You have Type 1 diabetes for life. The main factors associated with this type are:
- Family History: If any direct relative has or develops Type 1 diabetes, you are at a higher risk of all forms of diabetes. You should get checked if this scenario applies to you. A simple blood test can diagnose diabetes.
- Diseases of the Pancreas: If you develop pancreatitis, gallstones or pancreatic cancer at some point during your life, your body’s ability to produce insulin will slow dramatically and can lead to diabetes. Younger men and women are more susceptible in these cases.
- Infection or Illness: Certain infections and illnesses, although very rare, can temporarily or permanently damage your pancreas.
Type 2 Diabetes
In the case of Type 2 diabetes, your body is unable to use the insulin it produces. This is known as insulin resistance. Type 2 is most common in adults, but it can begin at any time in your life. Childhood obesity is becoming more and more common and can result in Type 2 diabetes early on in adolescence. The main factors associated with this type are:
- Obesity or Being Overweight: Research shows this is the main reason for Type 2 diabetes. Because of the rise in obesity among U.S. children, this type is affecting more teenagers than ever before. If you are obese, you are also at a high risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, such as high cholesterol and/or high blood pressure.
- Insulin Resistance: Type 2 diabetes often begins with cells that are resistant to insulin. Which means your pancreas must work harder to make enough insulin to meet your body’s needs.
- Ethnic Background: Diabetes is seen most often in Hispanic/Latino Americans, African-Americans, Native Americans, and Asian-Americans
- Sedentary Lifestyle: Exercising at least three times a week, while maintaining a healthy diet is the best method of avoiding Type 2 diabetes.
- Family History: As with Type 1, having a parent or sibling who has diabetes.
- Age: If you’re over 45 and overweight or if you have symptoms of diabetes, talk to your doctor about a simple screening test.
What are the Symptoms?
There are very common warning signs of diabetes that should alert you to seek medical attention immediately. If your body is unable to adequately produce insulin, you need to be prescribed an insulin pump to manually inject your body with the hormone. Common symptoms include, but are not limited to:
- Increased thirst
- Increased hunger (especially after eating)
- Dry mouth
- Frequent urination or urine infections
- Unexplained weight loss (even though you are eating and feel hungry)
- Fatigue (weak, tired feeling)
- Blurred vision
Complications of Diabetes
A doctor may prescribe a medication like Invokana or another SGLT2 inhibitor to be combined with insulin treatment and/or healthy lifestyle choices. Invokana reduces blood sugar by blocking glucose from being reabsorbed into the blood. The effectiveness of the drug comes at a price, however, as the side effects of Invokana can be just as bad as the symptoms it is intended to treat. Lower-limb loss and Fournier’s gangrene have been reported as serious conditions that have resulted from taking Invokana.
Nerve Damage (Neuropathy)
Too much sugar can injure the walls of capillaries, or tiny blood vessels, that nourish your nerves, especially in your legs. This can cause tingling, numbness, or pain that usually manifests at the tips of the toes or fingers and spreads gradually. Left untreated, you could lose all sense of feeling in the affected limbs. For men, it may even lead to erectile dysfunction.
Kidney Damage (Nephropathy)
The kidneys contain millions of tiny blood vessel clusters (glomeruli) that filter waste out of your blood. Diabetes can damage this delicate filtering system. Severe damage can lead to kidney failure or irreversible end-stage kidney disease, requiring dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Eye Damage (Retinopathy)
Diabetes can damage the blood vessels of the retina (diabetic retinopathy), potentially leading to blindness. Diabetes also increases the risk of other serious vision conditions, such as cataracts and glaucoma.
This November during Diabetes Awareness Month, be on the lookout for potential symptoms of both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. If you are pregnant, consult with your physician regarding your risks of gestational diabetes. Protect you and your loved ones against this terrible disease by staying active, eating a well-balanced diet, and getting regular check-ups. For more health and safety information about diabetes, and much more, visit ConsumerSafety.org here.