Diabetes awareness: What you need to know

Diabetes is a common chronic condition in which body glucose levels are elevated. More than 122 million Americans are living with diabetes or prediabetes. There are three main types of diabetes – type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes.

  • Type 1 diabetes: The body does not make any insulin and treatment involves lifelong insulin medication
  • Type 2 diabetes: The body does not use insulin effectively. This can be treated with a healthy lifestyle and a variety of medications
  • Gestational diabetes: Affects women during pregnancy and can be managed with diet control or, in more severe cases, insulin

The symptoms of new onset diabetes are increased thirst, increased urination, weight loss, fatigue, and blurry vision. If you start experiencing any of these symptoms, then please see your primary care doctor who can perform tests to diagnose whether you have diabetes.

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Type 1 diabetes more often occurs in childhood and Type 2 diabetes usually takes years to develop. When symptoms are absent, screening for diabetes should begin at the age of 45. Screening for diabetes should be done earlier if you have risk factors, such as family history, obesity or previous history of gestational diabetes.

A blood sugar test will help determine if you have prediabetes or diabetes.   There are several ways your doctor can test if you have diabetes: the A1c test, fasting blood glucose test, glucose tolerance test or a random blood glucose test.

  • The A1c test measures your average blood glucose over the past three months.
  • The fasting blood sugar test measures your blood glucose after an overnight fast.
  • The glucose tolerance test is performed by checking blood glucose before and at one or two hours after drinking a glucose load.

The treatment of diabetes involves a layered approach, including lifestyle modifications, dietary restrictions, increasing physical activity, weight loss and medications. If you have type 1 diabetes, you are likely to need insulin and continue insulin lifelong. For type 2 diabetes, you might be able to control your diabetes initially with lifestyle changes alone.

If your diabetes is more severe, there are a variety of oral medications that your doctor can prescribe, injections that stimulate insulin production from your body or, in more severe cases, you may need insulin to control your blood glucose. It’s important to monitor your A1c level every three months to ensure your diabetes is under control If not, your doctor may need to adjust or increase your medication.

One complication from overtreatment of diabetes is low blood glucose or hypoglycemia. This is a condition where low blood glucose can cause symptoms such as confusion, sweating, palpitations, fatigue or in more severe cases, decreased consciousness or coma. If you are having symptoms of low blood glucose levels while you are on treatment, you must speak to your doctor about adjusting your medications.

Effective treatment of diabetes is of utmost importance to prevent long-term complications that can be associated with the disease. These include complications that affect smaller blood vessels in the body such as diabetes eye disease, neuropathy or nerve disease, and kidney disease. Poorly controlled blood glucose can also affect the larger blood vessels, which can lead to strokes or heart disease, or affect blood supply to your hands and feet.

Poorly-controlled diabetes that affects your nerves or blood supply of your extremities can lead to diabetic foot sores or ulcers. In addition to taking medication, follow up with your doctor frequently, monitor your A1c and control diet and lifestyle. Additionally, visit an eye doctor yearly, check your kidneys yearly, and perform a daily foot exam, which your doctor will teach you how to perform.

If managed effectively with the right support, treatment and lifestyle changes, diabetes can be successfully controlled and individuals can maintain a balanced lifestyle.

Additional Resources

Learn more about diabetes care at Baylor Medicine or call 713–798–4736 to schedule an appointment.

Living with young adult diabetes: What you should know

-By Dr. Dimpi Desai, assistant professor of medicine-endocrinology at Baylor College of Medicine

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