Help for Patients and Caregivers
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Diabetes is a disease in which blood glucose levels are above normal. People with diabetes have problems converting food to energy. After a meal, food is broken down into a sugar called glucose, which is carried by the blood to cells throughout the body. Cells use the hormone insulin, made in the pancreas, to help them process blood glucose into energy.
People develop type 2 diabetes because the cells in the muscles, liver, and fat do not use insulin properly. Eventually, the pancreas cannot make enough insulin for the body’s needs. As a result, the amount of glucose in the blood increases while the cells are starved of energy. Over the years, high blood glucose damages nerves and blood vessels, leading to complications such as heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney disease, nerve problems, gum infections, and amputation.
Although people with diabetes can prevent or delay complications by keeping blood glucose levels close to normal, preventing or delaying the development of type 2 diabetes in the first place is even better. The results of a major federally funded study, the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), show how to do so. This study of 3,234 people at high risk for diabetes showed that moderate diet and exercise resulting in a 5- to 7-percent weight loss can delay and possibly prevent type 2 diabetes.
Study participants were overweight and had higher than normal levels of blood glucose, a condition called pre-diabetes (impaired glucose tolerance). Both pre-diabetes and obesity are strong risk factors for type 2 diabetes.
Am I at Risk for Type 2 Diabetes?
The results showed that people in the lifestyle modification group reduced their risk of getting type 2 diabetes by 58 percent. Average weight loss in the first year of the study was 15 pounds. Lifestyle modification was even more effective in those 60 and older. They reduced their risk by 71 percent. People receiving metformin reduced their risk by 31 percent.
Many people have no signs or symptoms. Symptoms can also be so
mild that you might not even notice them. Nearly six million people
in the United States have type 2 diabetes and do not know it.
The three main kinds of diabetes are type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes.
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 2 Diabetes
Am I at Risk for Type 2 Diabetes?
Sometimes people have symptoms but do not suspect diabetes. They delay scheduling a checkup because they do not feel sick. Many people do not find out they have the disease until they have diabetes complications, such as blurry vision or heart trouble. It is important to find out early if you have diabetes because treatment can prevent damage to the body from diabetes.
Anyone 45 years old or older should consider getting tested for diabetes. If you are 45 or older and overweight (see BMI chart on pages 10 and 11), it is strongly recommended that you get tested. If you are younger than 45, overweight, and have one or more of the risk factors on page 5, you should consider testing. Ask your doctor for a fasting blood glucose test or an oral glucose tolerance test. Your doctor will tell you if you have normal blood glucose, pre-diabetes, or diabetes.
It means you are at risk for getting type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The good news is if you have pre-diabetes you can reduce the risk of getting diabetes and even return to normal blood glucose levels. With modest weight loss and moderate physical activity, you can delay or prevent type 2 diabetes. If your blood glucose is higher than normal but lower than the diabetes range (what we now call pre-diabetes), have your blood glucose checked in 1 to 2 years.
Making big changes in your life is hard, especially if you are faced with more than one change. You can make it easier by taking these steps:
Your doctor, a dietitian, or a counselor can help you make a plan. Here are some of the areas you may wish to change to reduce your risk of diabetes.
Reach and Maintain a Reasonable Body Weight
Body mass index (BMI) is a measure of body weight relative to height. You can use BMI to see whether you are underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese. Click here to view the BMI table.
If you are overweight or obese, choose sensible ways to get in shape:
Make Wise Food Choices Most of the Time
Be Physically Active Every Day
If you are not very active, you should start slowly, talking with your doctor first about what kinds of exercise would be safe for you. Make a plan to increase your activity level toward the goal of being active at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week. Choose activities you enjoy. Here are some ways to work extra activity into your daily routine:
Take Your Prescribed Medications
We now know that many people can prevent type 2 diabetes through weight loss, regular exercise, and lowering their intake of fat and calories. Researchers are intensively studying the genetic and environmental factors that underlie the susceptibility to obesity, pre-diabetes, and diabetes. As they learn more about the molecular events that lead to diabetes, they will develop ways to prevent and cure the different stages of this disease. People with diabetes and those at risk for it now have easier access to clinical trials that test promising new approaches to treatment and prevention. For information about current studies, see ClinicalTrials.gov.
If you have diabetes, controlling your sugar is always the first priority. A healthy diet, regular exercise and good medical care can help. When your blood sugar is under control you’re also at lower risk for complications from diabetes. High blood sugar levels can damage your nerves and blood vessels. When levels are too high it can cause damage and disease in your eyes, teeth and feet. That’s why these parts of your body need special care, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Eyes. To keep your eyes healthy, get an eye exam every year. You should also go to the doctor if:
Teeth and gums. Have your teeth
cleaned and checked every 6 months.
Brush your teeth, front and back,
twice daily with a soft brush. Floss
once a day. See your dentist if you
notice any problems with your
gums or teeth.