Understanding Diabetes

November is National Diabetes Month, and in honor of that, we want to bring into focus the experiences of those affected by this chronic disease. Awareness and understanding are an important part of putting the widespread impact of diabetes into the proper context, and accurate information is key to building a deeper understanding of the unique challenges of living and managing diabetes.

According to the American Diabetes Association, nearly 30 million Americans have diabetes, and over 2 million (12.5%) of diabetics reside in New York State; this doesn’t take into account the nearly 5.5 million individuals in the state who qualify as pre-diabetic – which means higher than normal glucose levels but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. A more recent report by the CDC puts that number in the 30.3 million range nationwide, which accounts for 9.5% of the US population; there’s a good chance that someone you know is either diabetic or pre-diabetic, especially in New York State, where rates are higher than the national average.

What is Diabetes? 

Diabetes is a disease in which blood glucose – more commonly referred to as blood sugar- is too high; this high blood glucose is caused by something called an insulin deficiency. Insulin is a pancreatic hormone that helps your body break down glucose in foods, and convert it into energy. For a diabetic, their body is either not producing enough insulin, not using the insulin well (Type 2 Diabetes), or is not producing any insulin at all (Type 1 Diabetes). 

Different Type of Diabetes

Diabetes comes in a number of different forms, but for the purposes of this post, we will be focusing on the two most prevalent and chronic types, Type 1 and Type 2: 

  • Type 1 Diabetes: According to the National Institute of Health, Type 1 Diabetes is considered an autoimmune disease in which the antibodies of the person’s body attacks their own pancreas. This causes damage to the pancreas, leaving it incapable of producing insulin; it is typically caused by a genetic predisposition.
  • Type 2 Diabetes: Type 2 Diabetes was once referred to as adult-onset diabetes, because unlike Type 1 Diabetes, it is not directly triggered by genetic predisposition; however in recent years, Type 2 Diabetes has become more frequent amongst kids and teens, according to the Mayo Clinic. Type 2 Diabetes is by far the most common form of diabetes, with the CDC estimating 90-95% of all instances of diabetes being Type 2. 

Symptoms of Diabetes

While these 2 types of diabetes are distinctly different in their causes, symptoms between the two can have some crossover. Some of these common symptoms include: 

  • Extreme increase in hunger
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Blurred vision
  • Frequent urination
  • Fatigue
  • Extreme thirst
  • Mood Swings
  • Irritability

There is one distinct difference in how symptoms actually appear: in Type 1 Diabetes, symptoms can appear quite suddenly, while in Type 2 Diabetes, symptoms will develop more slowly and progressively, and may not become apparent for years. 

Complications from Diabetes

Even with proper care, living with diabetes can lead to a number of complications, including: 

  • Diabetic Neuropathy- A lack of insulin and, in turn, an excess of sugar can lead to nerve damage, which can cause tingling, numbness, burning and pain in the tips of fingers or toes; these sensations can then spread to larger portions of limbs, and ultimately cause digestive issues.  
  • Diabetic Nephropathy- Diabetes can cause damage to the kidney’s filtering system, which, if left untreated, can cause kidney failure.  
  • Diabetic Retinopathy- Damage to the blood vessels of the retina spurred by Diabetes can increase the probability of the development of cataracts and glaucoma, and, in severe cases, can lead to blindness.  
  • Foot Problems- Nerve damage to the feet can cause foot complications, and cuts/blisters on the feet can have a more difficult time healing, which can lead to infection.  
  • Depression- According to the National Institute of Health, depression affects those with diabetes significantly more than those without; depression rates in diabetes patients is around 25%, while rates amongst those who do not have diabetes is in the 5-8% range – a significant difference.

If you or a loved one is exhibiting any symptoms of the above listed complications, it’s important to contact a medical professional as soon as possible. 

Treating Diabetes

While there is no cure for diabetes, there are options when it comes to treatment and management. Keeping careful watch over your blood sugar levels is an essential part of mitigating some of the negative effects of diabetes, and a combination of insulin, exercise, and a healthy, nutritious diet can help. Healthline has put together an excellent lists of apps that bring a tech-savvy mentality to self-managing in the modern world, which you can find here. To build the best plan for yourself or a loved one, speak to a doctor about the most sensible and effective strategies to meet individual health needs.