Identifying Diabetes: Understanding the Risks and Symptoms

| 5 min read

Woman exercising
November marks the beginning of National Diabetes Awareness Month and we’re dedicated to spreading awareness about the disease.
Diabetes has become one of the biggest health crises worldwide and is costing $327 billion in healthcare dollars. It’s currently the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. and impacts more than 100 million adults. We’re committed to improving Michigan’s health and well-being by educating individuals and families about the risk factors and warning signs associated with diabetes.
Prediabetes, which is when blood sugar levels are elevated over a long period of time and will lead to Type 2 diabetes if it’s not managed, affects 84 million Americans, yet only 10% are aware of their condition. Diabetes isn’t curable but prediabetes is, therefore understanding the risk factors and symptoms is crucial in preventing further complications later down the road. Some of the symptoms associated with diabetes are:
  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Frequent hunger
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Ketones in urine
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Blurred vision
  • Slow-healing sores
  • Frequent infections (gums, skin infections and vaginal infections)
  • Tingling / numbness / pain in hands or feet
  • Patches of dark skin
Keeping an eye out for symptoms is a great way to be aware of your health, however it’s important to know your risk level so you can make healthy choices to help lower your risk. Take the Diabetes Risk Test to know and understand your risk for developing this disease. If you think you’re at risk, make an appointment with your doctor to get blood work done to assess your blood glucose levels. Additionally, learn about some of the genetic and lifestyle risk factors below:
  • Genetic risk factors include being over the age of 40, having a family history of diabetes or a personal history of high blood sugar or are of African American, Hispanic / Latino American, American Indian or Alaska Native descent.
The controllable risk factors of Type 2 diabetes, include:
  • Smoking negatively affects every system in the body. Research shows that smokers are three times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than non-smokers. If you smoke, the best thing you can do for your health is quit.
  • Excess body weight is a major risk factor for developing diabetes. Losing just 7% of your weight can dramatically improve your health and decrease your risk for developing diabetes.
  • Regular physical activity and exercise helps to control blood glucose (sugar), blood pressure and cholesterol numbers. It also helps to improve your body’s sensitivity to insulin, which reduces your risk of developing insulin resistance, thus lowering your risk for Type 2 diabetes. Aim for 30 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise such as brisk walking, swimming or weight training at least four days per week.
  • Choose a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Choose unrefined carbohydrates that contain high levels of fiber and have a low glycemic index to help keep blood glucose levels low. Avoid foods high in saturated and trans fats, which increase your risk for diabetes. And finally, learn how to use food labels so you can make the healthiest choices possible.
Although there is no cure for Type 2 diabetes, it can be managed with exercise, diet and medications (if prescribed). If you just recently received a Type 2 diabetes diagnosis and have no idea what do next, read below to learn some easy changes you can make:
  • Watch portions: What you eat affects your blood sugar. No foods are strictly off-limits. Focus on eating only as much as your body needs. Get plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Choose nonfat dairy and lean meats. Limit foods that are high in sugar and fat. Remember that carbohydrates turn into sugar so watch your carb intake. Try to keep it about the same from meal to meal. This is even more important if you take insulin or drugs to control your blood sugars.
  • Manage Stress: When you’re stressed, your blood sugar levels go up. And when you’re anxious, you may not manage your diabetes well. You may forget to exercise, eat right or take your medicines. Find ways to relieve stress through deep breathing, yoga, or other hobbies that relax you.
  • Get Active: If you’re not active, it’s time to start. You don’t have to join a gym and do cross-training. Just walk, ride a bike or play active interactive video games. Your goal should be 30 minutes of activity that makes you sweat and breathe a little harder most days of the week. An active lifestyle helps you control your diabetes by bringing down your blood sugar. It also lowers your chances of getting heart disease. Plus, it can help you lose extra pounds and ease stress.
  • Get Checkups: See your doctor at least twice a year. Learn your numbers: cholesterol, blood pressure, and A1C (average blood sugar over 3 months). Get a full eye exam every year. Visit a foot doctor to check for problems like foot ulcers and nerve damage.
  • Quit Smoking, Limit Alcohol Consumption: Diabetes makes you more likely to have health problems like heart disease, eye disease, stroke, kidney disease, blood vessel disease, nerve damage and foot problems. If you smoke, your chance of getting these problems is even higher. Smoking also can make it harder to exercise. Talk with your doctor about ways to quit. Alcohol can make your blood sugar go too high or too low.
You’re not alone in your diabetes journey. Here are some other blogs you may find helpful:
Photo credit: gpointstudio

A Healthier Michigan is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.
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