Monday, November 09, 2020 - This year for Diabetes Awareness Month, get the facts

This year for Diabetes Awareness Month, get the facts

By Julie Fortenberry RDN,

COVINGTON, La. – November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. This observance is an opportunity to raise awareness of symptoms, promote healthy living, and ensure that people are aware of the risk factors of diabetes. Various organizations promote awareness campaigns and hold fundraising events throughout the month. For the millions at risk, it is a time to get educated, find resources, and help ensure family and friends are aware of their risk as well. This year, the theme is “We Stand Greater Than Diabetes.”

Diabetes is a disease and happens when your body can not control blood sugar levels. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 34.2 million Americans – just more than one in 10 – have diabetes. Another 88 million American adults are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Also according to the CDC, diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. Diabetes can cause blindness, nerve damage, kidney disease and other health problems if not controlled.

There are three types of diabetes: type 1, type 2 and gestational. Type 1 diabetes is caused by an autoimmune reaction which completely stops your body from making insulin. Children, teens and young adults are usually diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and will need to take insulin every day to survive.

Type 2 diabetes can be developed over time and is often diagnosed in adults, but more children, teens and young adults are developing type 2 diabetes.

Gestational diabetes develops in pregnant women and can cause the baby to be at high risk for health problems. If a mother develops gestational diabetes, both mother and child are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes in the future.

Early symptoms of diabetes, especially type 2 diabetes, aren't always obvious. In fact, signs and symptoms can come on so gradually that people may have type 2 diabetes for years before being diagnosed with the disease. The symptoms of type 2 diabetes can be very gradual in their development and often mimic a variety of other possible medical conditions. Since type 2 diabetes prevalence increases as people age, some of the symptoms are attributed to part of the normal aging process. Having routine blood glucose testing during annual physical examinations or when a cluster or several symptoms occur can confirm the diagnosis.

Type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes symptoms are very similar, although type 2 diabetes symptom progression is much slower in most cases. Typically the symptoms of type 1 diabetes will be noted in late childhood and early teen years. Type 2 diabetes is often diagnosed as adults, however, the mean age at diagnosis is actually decreasing. If you notice the following signs and symptoms, make an appointment to see your doctor:

  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Increased hunger
  • Slow-healing sores and frequent infections
  • Red, swollen gums
  • Tingling or numbness in your hands or feet

Understanding possible diabetes symptoms can lead to early diagnosis and treatment, which can help you prevent the complications of diabetes and lead to a lifetime of better health.

Prediabetes is a term being used more frequently in the medical world. Prediabetes means you have a higher than normal blood sugar level. It is not high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes yet, but without lifestyle changes, adults and children with prediabetes are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

If you have prediabetes, the long-term damage of diabetes may already be starting. There is good news, however. Progression from prediabetes to type 2 diabetes is not inevitable. Eating healthy foods, making physical activity part of your daily routine and maintaining a healthy weight can help bring your blood sugar levels back to normal.

Given the seriousness of diabetes and its growing prevalence, it is easy to see why National Diabetes Awareness Month is vital for raising awareness. If you or someone you love is living with diabetes or shows the symptoms listed above, take this time to reevaluate your health goals. Allow November to be a friendly reminder every year that your well-being is important, and diabetes can be a well-managed disease if properly prioritized and monitored.

Julie Fortenberry is a registered dietitian with St. Tammany Health System’s Diabetes Education Department.