Debunking Diabetes

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 37 million people in the U.S. have diabetes and 1 in 5 don’t know they have it. Dr. Ruchi Gaba, associate professor of medicine-endocrinology at Baylor College of Medicine, answers some common questions about the disease, including symptoms, treatment options and more.

A collection of diabetes testing supplies.Question: What exactly is diabetes?

Answer: Diabetes is a condition that impairs the body’s ability to process blood glucose, also known as blood sugar. Insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, helps the glucose that comes from the food you eat to get into your cells for energy. Sometimes your body does not make enough or any insulin or does not use insulin well. Glucose then stays in your blood and does not reach your cells. Over time, having too much glucose in your blood can cause health problems.

Q: What parts of the body are impacted by diabetes?

A: It can affect many major organs like heart, brain, kidneys, eyes, teeth, nerves and feet. When the disease is not well controlled, it can cause many serious health conditions that can co-exist with diabetes.

Q: What are the different types of diabetes? 

A: The most common types of diabetes are type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes. Less common types include monogenic diabetes, which is an inherited form of diabetes, and cystic fibrosis-related diabetes.

Q: What is the difference between diabetes and prediabetes?

A: Prediabetes means your blood glucose (sugar) levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes.

Q: Who is more at risk for diabetes? 

A: You are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes if you are age 40 or older, have a family history of diabetes or are overweight. Physical inactivity, race and certain ethnic backgrounds can also affect your chance of developing type 2 diabetes. Lifestyle habits do not contribute to type 1 diabetes, but genetic factors may play a role.

Q: What are some symptoms of new onset diabetes?

A: Increased thirst, frequent urination, increased hunger, unintended weight loss despite eating more, fatigue, blurred vision, tingling, pain and numbness in hands/feet, cuts and bruises that are slow to heal and frequent infections.

Q: How is diabetes diagnosed? If left untreated, what can happen? 

A: If the blood tests show that your blood glucose (sugar) level is higher than the range that is healthy for you then you are diagnosed with diabetes.

If left untreated, diabetes can lead to devastating complications over time, such as heart disease, nerve damage, blindness, kidney failure and amputations. Some patients, especially type 1 diabetes patients can develop a potentially fatal condition called diabetic ketoacidosis in as little a few hours needing ICU/ hospital admission.

Q: How is diabetes treated? 

A: There are different treatment modalities based on the kind of diabetes you have, including insulin or diabetes medications. In addition to making healthy food and beverage choices, getting physical activity, getting enough sleep, and stress control can help you manage the disease better. Some other newer treatment options are also available.

Q: Is it reversible? 

A: Type 2 diabetes cannot be cured, but individuals can have glucose levels that return to non-diabetes range (complete remission) or prediabetes glucose level (partial remission) mainly by losing significant amounts of weight. Therefore, diabetes can go into remission, which is a better concept than being reversible. There is no cure or reversing of type 1 diabetes.

Q: What is one thing you wish more people knew about diabetes?

A: Everyone’s diabetes is different – there is no one-size-fits-all diabetes management plan. Something that works now might not work a few years down the line and so always consult and follow up with your doctor.

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

By Anna Kiappes

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