FROM THE EXPERT | Knowing Your Diabetes Risk

Angela Kammeyer

Diabetes is a serious disease that affects the way your body processes blood sugar (glucose). While there are several types of diabetes, the most common is type 2. With type 2 diabetes, the body either doesn’t produce enough insulin, or it resists insulin. Insulin is important because it helps blood sugar enter your body’s cells so it can be used for energy. Symptoms of type 2 diabetes include fatigue, extreme thirst, dry mouth, frequent urination, blurry vision and unplanned weight loss.

In some cases, there may be no symptoms, which means diabetes can be a silent disease, and if not cared for properly it can significantly damage your body. Since you can’t always feel symptoms of elevated glucose levels, it’s important to get tested every year, especially if you have a family history of diabetes or are overweight.

There are many ways to screen for type 2 diabetes including a fasting glucose test, a two-hour glucose tolerance test or an A1C test. Testing a fasting glucose level only represents what your level may be at that particular time of the day, while the A1C test is a more comprehensive reflection of how your glucose is doing overall. Talk with your doctor or provider about which test is right for you.

Once diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, it is important to seek treatment right away. If left untreated, high glucose can cause kidney disease, eye damage and increase your risk for heart attack or stroke. Diabetes can also cause damage to nerves anywhere in your body including feet, hands, stomach, bowel/bladder and sexual organs.

The foundation of good health is a healthy diet and regular physical activity. Oftentimes, medication is needed, too. Many patients worry they will have to take diabetes medication for the rest of their life; however, that is not always the case. With lifestyle changes, many individuals are able to reduce or eliminate the use of diabetes medication.

According to the CDC, about 20 million people in the United States have type 2 diabetes, yet 96 million adults—more than 1 in 3—have prediabetes. And more than 8 in 10 of them don’t know they have it. With prediabetes, blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough for a type 2 diabetes diagnosis. Prediabetes raises your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

The good news is there are many ways to prevent the development of diabetes. Get regular physical movement in whatever form possible. Physical activity helps lower glucose levels, even if it does not result in a reduction in weight. I like to think of it as an “extra pill” to help control glucose levels.

When it comes to food choices, choose natural, whole foods whenever possible; think vegetables, nuts, beans, fruits, lean proteins and unsaturated fats. For many, food has become a hobby or even a coping mechanism, which often causes us to overeat. We need to train ourselves to eat enough to satisfy our hunger until the next meal in three to four hours. Sugary foods and beverages should be consumed in moderation.

Making healthy food choices can be difficult when processed foods are so readily available to us; however, it’s so important to commit to fueling our bodies with healthier food and be deliberate with our choices. Don’t try to be perfect but work hard to do better each day.

My best advice for preventing or combatting diabetes is to get checked on a yearly basis, seek the appropriate treatment and strive for healthy behaviors!

Angela Kammeyer has worked for Bothwell Regional Health Center for 24 years and is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator. She provides patients in the hospital with nutrition and diabetes education to help improve their health.