In its “National Diabetes Statistics Report 2020,” the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Diabetes Translation details the most updated “state of the disease” in America. The CDC aims to use the report’s information to improve diabetes prevention and management strategies available in this country.
According to the report, which analyzed health data through 2018, 34.2 million Americans, or just over one in 10 individuals, have diabetes. Further, 88 million American adults, approximately one in three, have prediabetes. Unfortunately, most people with prediabetes are unaware they have it.
Diabetes is a chronic, or long-lasting, disease that affects how your body turns the food you eat into fuel your body can use for energy. When you eat food, most of it is broken down into a sugar called glucose that is then released into your bloodstream.
When you eat, your glucose level increases, and that signals your pancreas to release a hormone called insulin. Insulin serves as the “key” to unlock your body’s cells and allow glucose to enter. The cells can then use the sugar for energy. Diabetes occurs when there isn’t enough insulin or your body doesn’t use it efficiently, and the glucose in your blood becomes too high.
There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2.
Approximately 5 to 10 percent of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes, which is typically diagnosed in children and teens. With type 1 diabetes, your own immune system attacks the specialized insulin-creating cells in the pancreas called islet cells. Normally, islet cells produce the exact amount of insulin necessary to normalize the glucose level in your blood.
With type 2 diabetes, the more common type, you still produce insulin but it’s inadequate for your body’s needs. Generally, the release of insulin from your pancreas is defective and, as a result, the amount is insufficient. Type 2 diabetes occurs most often in people over 30 years old, and its incidence increases with age. It is sometimes referred to as adult-onset diabetes.
Prediabetes is when your blood sugar is higher than it should be but not high enough for your doctor to diagnose diabetes. Almost all people with type 2 diabetes had prediabetes first.
Symptoms of diabetes include: increased thirst, frequent urination, extreme hunger, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, irritability, blurred vision, slow-healing sores and frequent infections,. Abdominal pain, itchy skin and tingling or numbness in the feet or toes may also occur. Symptoms vary depending on the level of glucose in your blood.
The onset of type 2 diabetes is typically slower than that of type 1 diabetes, and the symptoms may be less noticeable. Or you may overlook the symptoms or attribute them to another condition or to simply getting older. But if you notice symptoms, see your health care provider to be tested for prediabetes or diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is treated using injections of insulin or wearing an insulin pump. The injected insulin performs the same function as the insulin normally made by the islet cells of your pancreas. It serves as the key to allow glucose to enter your cells for use as energy.
Treatment for type 2 diabetes generally begins with lifestyle modification, such as altering your diet, increasing your exercise and losing weight. If your glucose level remains high, you may be instructed to use medications that help your body use insulin more efficiently. It may be necessary to use insulin injections to manage your blood glucose.
If you cannot adequately control the glucose level in your blood, you may develop chronic complications of diabetes. These arise due to blood vessel damage caused by consistently high blood glucose and can affect your eyes, kidneys, nerves and heart. These complications include diabetic retinopathy, diabetic neuropathy, erectile dysfunction and coronary artery disease.
Currently, there is no cure for diabetes, so the aim of treatment is to manage the disease and prevent complications. Management involves controlling your blood glucose, and that requires consistent monitoring. You must test your blood glucose level throughout the day to be sure it is not too high or too low. Both extremes can have serious consequences.
One way to test your glucose level at home is to use a fingerstick to obtain a drop of blood that you place on a meter that calculates your glucose level. There are also monitors that you wear on your body, called continuous glucose monitors (CGMs). CGMs use sensors to measure your glucose level. They provide continuous, dynamic glucose information every five minutes.
If you notice symptoms of diabetes, visit your doctor for testing. If you test positive for diabetes or if you’ve had diabetes for a while, follow your doctor’s recommendations for controlling your blood glucose and managing your condition. And most of all, monitor, monitor, monitor.