In this first of our three-part series, we’ll help you determine whether you’re at risk for type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes calls for constant vigilance: Monitoring blood sugar levels, thinking about when and what you’ll eat, and considering how taking your dog for a romp or your kids to the lake could throw everything off. This chronic illness can also add stress, medical expenses and extra risk to an already full plate.
In Maine, this is reality for as many as 133,100 people. It doesn’t have to be for you. There’s plenty you can do to know if you’re at risk for diabetes – and how to lower it.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic illness that throws off the body’s ability to process food into the sugar it needs for fuel. Because the body either can’t make enough of the hormone insulin or can’t use insulin properly, you end up with way too much blood sugar. Over time, high blood sugar can wreak havoc on your eyes, heart, bloods vessels, nerves and kidneys. This elevates your risk for heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney disease and even loss of toes, feet or lower legs.
“Diabetes can be managed, but not cured, which makes it so important to make healthy lifestyle choices in the first place,” says Janet Pachta, M.D., a Martin’s Point Adult Medicine physician.
There are three types of diabetes. Here, we’ll focus on type 2 – far and away the biggest trouble maker in America.
How common is type 2 diabetes?
One in every four adults – a staggering 30.3 million Americans – aren’t aware that they have diabetes. Today, three times as many adults are diagnosed than were 20 years ago. And though it was once an adult-only problem, type 2 diabetes has trickled down to kids, teens and young adults, too.
Equally worrisome is the prevalence of prediabetes. With prediabetes, blood sugar levels aren’t quite high enough to earn a diabetic label, but there’s still trouble afoot. People with prediabetes have a higher risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke – but prediabetes can be reversed.
Are you at risk?
Having just one of the following factors sends up a red flag that you’re more likely to develop diabetes or prediabetes:
- You are age 45 or older
- You are overweight or obese
- You exercise less than three times a week
- You have a family history of diabetes
- You developed diabetes during pregnancy or gave birth to a baby weighing 9 or more pounds
- You have high blood pressure
- Your background is African American, American Indian or Alaskan native, Asian American, Hispanic or Latino, or Native Hawaiian or Pacific islander.
You can get a more precise idea of your risk level by taking this quick quiz online or downloading it here. If your score is 9 points or more, make a date with your health care provider right away. If your score is 3 to 8 points, keep up the good work (details below).
“Diagnosing – and then managing – diabetes is key to preventing long-term effects on the heart, kidneys and eyes,” notes Dr. Pachta. “Recognizing prediabetes and taking action to prevent progression also prevents unnecessary damage.” So, if you think you might be at risk or have diabetes or prediabetes, call your doctor today.
Check back in a couple of weeks for part two of this series, and learn about the many ways you can cut your risk for diabetes and live a healthier life.