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Diabetes: Dissecting the Sugar-Coated Truth

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Feeling tired and fatigued lately? Have you been excessively hungry or thirsty? Experiencing blurred vision or tingling and numbness in your hands and feet? It may be time to make sure your symptoms aren’t linked to diabetes.

The onset of diabetes can be gradual and its symptoms can appear to be mild in the early stages. Knowing what to look for is important to knowing how to properly manage your risk or diagnosis. Being familiar with your risk, your genes, your body and the most efficient avenue of diagnosis can help decrease the severity of the disease and even reverse its symptoms.

Dissecting Diabetes

Diabetes is a disease that occurs when the body is unable to manage the sugar ingested. Two main types of diabetes are type 1 and type 2. 

With type 1, also known as juvenile-onset diabetes, the pancreas essentially stops making insulin, which is the hormone that allows the body to use sugar from carbohydrates for energy. Insulin helps regulate blood sugar levels to prevent levels from soaring too high (hyperglycemia) or dropping too low (hypoglycemia). Because of the pancreas’ inability to produce insulin, blood sugar levels can rise to dangerous levels. Upon diagnosis, people with type 1 diabetes must take insulin the rest of their lives. There currently is no cure for type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is far more common and generally seen in adults—even though more children are being diagnosed with it today due to the rise in childhood obesity. The body is unresponsive to its own insulin production, causing blood sugar levels to rise over time and requiring the pancreas to compensate by producing more insulin. Ultimately the pancreas is unable to keep up with the rapid rate of insulin production and eventually the individual becomes insulin dependent. People who have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes include:

• Overweight individuals

• People of African American, Hispanic, American Indian, Asian American or Pacific Islander descent

• People with a family or personal history of gestational diabetes

• Those older than 45 years of age

• Individuals with hypertension

Daily lifestyle changes for both types of diabetes often include frequently testing blood sugar levels, daily exercise, careful meal planning, taking insulin injections and managing medications. However, depending on the severity of the disease, individuals also face the serious risks of losing their vision, untreated wounds more easily leading to infection and possible amputation of the feet and legs, possible kidney failure and developing Alzheimer’s disease.

How do you know if you have diabetes? At Cooper Clinic, each patient undergoes a routine test called the A1C blood test. This test measures glucose levels in the blood over the past three months. It is specifically used to help manage glucose levels as well as risk of complications from diabetes, such as organ damage. A1C level results include:

• Normal — below 5.7 percent

• Prediabetes — 5.7 to 6.4 percent

• Diabetes — 6.5 percent or above

Managing Your Risk

Cooper Clinic Preventive Medicine Physician Emily Hebert, MD, says the best way to prevent the onset of diabetes is to maintain a healthy weight. “Nutrition is paramount to maintaining a healthy weight,” states Dr. Hebert. “Exercise is also very important as it helps with not only weight loss and management, but also with glucose control.”

The Role Genes Play

Even at a healthy weight, those with a genetic predisposition to the disease still face the strong likelihood of developing the disease at some point in their lifetime. However, the longer you’re able to prevent the disease, the better. “If you have any family history of diabetes, doing everything you can to postpone the diagnosis is important,” Dr. Hebert advises. “The long term complications of diabetes are directly associated with the length of time a person has the disease and how well they manage their diabetes.”

Talk to your physician to determine areas in your life that could be creating potential risk of the development and/or progression of diabetes. Taking small steps can yield big results in the prevention and reversal of diabetes, such as exercising regularly and being mindful of nutrition.

Through lifestyle changes as outlined by Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper’s 8 Steps to Get Cooperized, the prevention, management and even reversal of diabetes are all possible, and can lead to a longer, happier and healthier life.

For more information about Cooper Clinic, visit cooper-clinic.com or call 972.560.2667.