In the United States, one in 10 people have diabetes. Nearly 1.6 million of these people suffer from type 1 diabetes, and the rest experience type 2. Diabetes can be quite serious; it is the seventh leading cause of death in this country.
Cruz Fana-Souchet, M.D. board-certified internal medicine and infectious disease specialist and the founder of AMA Medical Group says, “One of the questions I get when my patients come in is, ‘Dr. Fana, do I have diabetes?’” It’s a scary question because the disease is so serious. However, a simple test can provide the answer and getting treated can help protect your health.
Let’s talk about diabetes and a condition you may not have heard about called prediabetes. Here’s what you need to know.
What Is Diabetes?
Dr. Fana says, “Diabetes is an abnormality where you are not able to manage the sugar level.” Blood glucose, or blood sugar, as it’s commonly called, is a source of energy that comes from the food you consume. To turn food sugars into cells your body can consume, it needs a little help from a hormone called insulin.
Your pancreas, an organ behind the stomach, produces insulin that converts the sugars from food into your cells to be used as energy or fuel. If your body doesn’t make enough insulin or doesn’t use the hormone well, that sugar will stay in your blood. This buildup of extra sugar in the blood is known as diabetes.
Among many types of diabetes, here are the four most common ones:
- Type 1 diabetes is a genetic disorder where your immune system attacks and destroys the pancreas cells that make insulin
- Type 2 diabetes is the adult-onset form of the disease and occurs most often in middle-aged or older people
- Prediabetes is the stage before the patient is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes
- Gestational diabetes occurs in some women during their pregnancy
What Causes Diabetes?
Diabetes is triggered for two reasons:
- Your pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin
- Your pancreas produces insulin but the body’s cells aren’t using it properly
The result is that sugar stays in your bloodstream. We don’t know exactly why this occurs, but there are some contributing factors in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Risk factors for type 1 diabetes include:
- Family history of the disease
- Injury to the pancreas
- Physical stresses such as surgery or an illness
And these are the risk factors for type 2 diabetes:
- Aged 45 or over
- Being overweight or inactive
- Experiencing gestational diabetes
- Family history of the disease
- High blood pressure
- Low HDL cholesterol and high triglycerides
- Race, particularly African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic, Native-American, or Pacific Islander
Over time, excess blood glucose can create all kinds of health issues. What should you look for as a red flag that you may be developing diabetes?
What Are the Most Common Symptoms of Diabetes?
Dr. Fana says, “One of the most common symptoms is that they get very tired and thirsty. These people get very dehydrated from the amount of sugar in their bloodstream that is floating around but they’re not able to absorb it.” Other symptoms of diabetes include:
- Blurred vision
- Cuts that heal slowly
- Dry mouth
- Numbness or tingling in the feet or hands
Dr. Fana suggests annual vision check ups to be sure your eyes haven’t been affected by the disease. She also carefully checks the feet of her diabetic patients to check for sores or other signs of potential neuropathy or nerve damage that can cause serious problems down the road. Your doctor should also check your kidneys each year with a simple blood and urine test.
Because diabetes is a systemic illness, all of these bodily systems should be carefully checked. Dr. Fana says, “We’re screening aggressively for diabetes.”
How Is Diabetes Diagnosed?
Dr. Fana says, “By a simple blood test, we can check whether or not you have diabetes.” The test she’s referring to is the A1C or the glycated hemoglobin test. The test shows your average blood sugar levels over the prior 90-day period. The higher your blood sugar levels, the bigger the worry you’re developing diabetes. Here are some test rules we typically follow:
- An A1C below 5.7% is normal
- If your A1C is between 5.7% and 6.4% you are prediabetic
- An A1C of 6.5% or higher is considered diabetic
Your doctor may also order a fasting blood sugar test, where you stop eating for eight hours before testing occurs. Or, you may have an oral glucose tolerance test if you’re currently pregnant.
What Does Prediabetes Mean?
Prediabetes is an early form of the diabetic state. Dr. Fana says, “These are the patients that are walking around and don’t know that they have diabetes, perhaps because when they do the routine test, their sugar levels in the morning are normal.” She continues, “The problem is that 100% of those patients will develop diabetes.”
Diagnosing prediabetes quickly and treating it is very important. Dr. Fana says, “If we don’t take care of them at that very moment, we’ve lost a window of opportunity.”
There are two big problems with prediabetes. First, you may not have any symptoms of the disease yet. Dr. Fana says, “That is why you should come to your doctor once a year so we can screen you for diabetes.” The second is that if you have prediabetes, you have the same risk factor as a diabetes patient of developing the same serious complications. These include:
- Dental issues
- Erectile dysfunction
- Foot problems
- Hearing loss
- Heart attack
- Kidney disease
- Nerve damage
- Skin infections
- Vision problems
Dr. Fana says, “Diabetes affects your whole body. It’s always important that we can detect early so we can treat and potentially reverse the disease progression.”
What Can You Do to Treat Diabetes?
Dr. Fana recommends to her patients some lifestyle changes. She says, “Diet and exercise is very important,” but also, “It’s important to not stop eating sugar but eat the right sugars, like whole grains, fruit, and vegetables.” Losing weight, particularly belly fat, along with increasing your physical activity to at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week can help. Quitting any smoking habit is also important.
Finally, your doctor may also prescribe medications to help control the escalation of your blood sugar and lessen the damage to your other organs.
If you haven’t scheduled your annual health screening with AMA Medical Group, call us today for a lifetime of caring. Your health matters to us–today, tomorrow, and beyond.