Could You Have Diabetes and Not Even Know It?

It is hard to imagine that you could have a serious medical condition, and be totally unaware of it. Diabetes is a chronic, progressive disease that is just that – serious. It can lead to heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, blindness, kidney disease, nervous system damage, amputation, gum disease, as well as complications with pregnancy. And yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are an estimated 7 million people in the United States who remain in the dark; they are undiagnosed. Some people will never feel sick at all, go to the doctor for a routine check up, have the usual blood tests done, and come home with a diagnosis. These people are surprised and shocked, to say the least. However, if they were to sit back and think about it, they may be able to pinpoint that in the past several weeks or months (and in some cases, years), there were some changes in how they felt. Symptoms were simply chalked up to things other than diabetes. It is time to pay attention to the signals that your body may be sending you. Have you recently experienced any of these symptoms?
• Extreme thirst
• Urinating frequently (more than usual)
• Being very hungry
• Unexpected weight loss
• Feeling very tired
• Being moody and irritable
• Having blurry vision
• Dry, itchy skin
• Numbness or tingling in your feet
• Cuts not healing
Are you saying to yourself, “Hey, that sounds like me!”? If you experienced just one of these symptoms, it is time to call your doctor. You won’t be alone if you do get a diagnosis. According to the CDC, in 2010 (the latest data available) there were 1.9 million newly diagnosed people with diabetes. This group joins the 18.8 million American adults already living with this disease.
There are different types of diabetes. So, make sure you know which one you are dealing with, type 1, type 2, prediabetes or gestational diabetes. A description of each type is detailed below:
Type I diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which your body makes absolutely no insulin. In order to get energy (blood sugar) into your cells, you will have to use insulin injections, pens or pumps. Additionally, you may need to take pills to help control blood sugar. Also, you will need to learn how to eat right and exercise on a regular basis. The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF),estimates there are approximately 3 million Americans with type 1.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, accounting for 90- 95 percent of all cases, according to The American Diabetes Association. It is a condition in which the body cannot make enough insulin to get energy into the cells and/or it does not do a good job using the insulin it does make. Often times, type 2 is controlled with lifestyle changes such as eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, and reaching and then maintaining a healthy body weight. Despite their best efforts, people with type 2 may need to take pills to control their blood sugar, and might eventually need insulin.
Prediabetes is a condition that means you are on the path towards diabetes type 2, but aren’t there yet. And you may never get there! Research has show that you may be able to reverse direction by making lifestyle changes (e.g. eating healthy foods and starting to exercise consistently). According to the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Disease (NIDDK), there are at least 79 million Americans with prediabetes.
Gestational diabetes is the development of diabetes during pregnancy. For unknown reasons, the ability to make and use insulin becomes a problem for up to 18 percent of all pregnant women, according to The American Diabetes Association. Proper diet and mild exercise may help control blood sugar during pregnancy. Many women do end up needing insulin injections. After delivery, The National Diabetes Information Clearing House states that these women have 35-60 percent greater chance of developing Type 2 diabetes than women who have not had gestational diabetes.
So, you have a diagnosis and know the type of diabetes with which you have been diagnosed. Now what? It is time to take action. As with anything in life, there is no time like the present to take care of business. Steps to take right away are these:
1. Meet with a registered dietitian and a nurse educator
2. Have an eye exam by an ophthalmologist
3. Get your feet examined by a podiatrist
4. See your primary care physician and/or an endocrinologist regularly
Although there is no cure for diabetes, it is treatable. Fortunately, there is a lot you can do to manage your condition. With healthy food choices, regular exercise, weight management and proper medications, a person with diabetes can live a long and happy life.
Jennifer Giffune, R.D., L.D.N. is a freelance author, professional speaker and nutrition counselor. She currently is providing nutrition counseling services for Hampden County Physician Associates at their offices in Westfield, Southwick, and West Springfield. If you would like to schedule a counseling session with Jennifer, please call (413) 569-2257.

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