How to know whether you might be at risk for diabetes—plus need-to-know information to keep you healthy.
Wondering what diabetes is? The simple answer: People with diabetes have too much sugar in their bloodstream. When you eat, your body breaks down carbohydates into glucose. The hormone insulin helps your body absorb glucose and use it for energy. But in people with diabetes, the body either doesn't make enough insulin or doesn't use it properly. As a result, glucose builds up in the blood; left untreated, that can lead to serious health problems. There are several types of diabetes:
Type 1: Previously called juvenile diabetes, is usually diagnosed during childhood. The immune system attacks cells in the pancreas, destroying its ability to make insulin.
Type 2: The most common form, affects more than 90 percent of people with the disease. Your body doesn't use insulin properly—a condition known as insulin resistance. At first, your pancreas makes extra insulin to compensate, but over time, it can't make enough to keep blood glucose at normal levels. Eventually, the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas might burn out because of this overproduction. However, in earlier phases the illness can be managed with diet, exercise and monitoring of blood sugar.
Prediabetes: Your glucose is higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as type 2 diabetes. You might be able to prevent or delay prediabetes from becoming diabetes by making lifestyle changes such as a healthier diet and regular exercise.
Gestational Diabetes: This is high blood sugar that occurs during pregnancy. Nearly 10 percent of pregnant women have the condition, which can lead to high birth weight or preterm birth. It also raises the child's risk of developing obesity or type 2 diabetes later in life. For the mother, it can mean an increased risk of high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia. If you've had gestational diabetes, you're also more likely to get type 2 diabetes as you get older, though you can reduce the risk by maintaining a healthy weight and making wise lifestyle changes.
Not sure if you have diabetes? It's smart to watch for these five warning signs: Weight loss (despite eating more than usual to satisfy hunger), increased thirst and urination, fatigue, blurry vision and slow-healing sores or frequent infections.
FYI: You might not have any symptoms at all; more than a quarter of the 29.1 million Americans with diabetes don't know they have it. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that all adults be tested at ge 45 and then every three years after that if the first test is normal. If you're overweight or have other risk factors (such as a family history, high blood pressure or past gestational diabetes), your doctor may want to screen you earlier.
Your health insurance might cover the screening; if you have high blood pressure your insurer must cover in-network screening for type 2 diabetes at no cost to you. The standard test is the A1C, a blood test that provides information on your average blood glucose level during the previous two to three months.