Could I Have Diabetes?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), approximately 18 million people in the United States have diabetes and of those, about five million people are unaware that they have the condition. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder characterized by high blood sugar levels. The condition results from a defect in the bodys ability to produce or utilize insulin. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas that is necessary to convert glucose into a form that can be used by cells for growth and energy. Diabetes cannot be cured, but it often can be managed with proper medical care, diet, and regular exercise.
There are three main types of diabetes type 1 (accounts for 10% of cases), type 2 (accounts for about 90% of cases), and gestational diabetes (affects approximately 4% of pregnant women in the United States).
Type 1 diabetes, formerly called juvenile diabetes, is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Type 1 diabetes occurs most often in children and young adults, but it can develop at any age. Because their bodies do not produce it, patients with this type must take insulin daily to regulate blood sugar levels.
Type 2 diabetes accounts for over 90% of cases. In most cases, patients with this type produce enough insulin but are unable to utilize it (called insulin resistance). Type 2 diabetes occurs most often in patients over the age of 40 who are overweight.
Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy and usually resolves (goes away) after childbirth. Women who develop gestational diabetes have an increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of diabetes result from elevated circulating blood glucose and include blurred vision, constant hunger, fatigue, frequent urination and increased thirst.
High levels of circulating blood sugar for prolonged periods of time has long-term harmful effects on both large and small blood vessels. This might lead to narrowing of the wall of the tiny blood vessels going to the heart and/or the brain. This makes it easy for any tiny blood clot to cause complete occlusion of a vital tiny blood vessel going to the heart, kidney or to the brain resulting in a heart attack, kidney failure or a stroke.
Many patients may not realize that they have diabetes until they develop their first heart attack. That is why diabetes is being called a silent killer since people may not be aware that they have it until they develop a catastrophic event like a heart attack, visual loss, kidney failure, stroke or even sudden death.
Although diabetes may not show any symptoms for years, certain predisposing factors may alert a person to check him or herself for diabetes, like having excessive body weight, especially around the waist, and a family history of diabetes.
The fasting blood glucose test is used to diagnose diabetes. This test is performed after the patient has fasted for at least eight hours. Normal blood glucose levels are less than 100 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) and a level of 126 mg/dL or higher on two different blood tests indicates diabetes mellitus. After diagnosis of diabetes is established, another blood test called the HbA1C test is done to evaluate the average level of glucose in the blood for the past three months. In healthy individuals this value should be less than 6%.
If you think you or someone you love may be at risk for diabetes, schedule an appointment with your doctor immediately.