Diabetes: Are you at risk?

By Dr. Deirdre SmithNovember 15, 2018

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November is Diabetes Awareness Month -- are you at risk?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30.3 million Americans have diabetes. While there are many different types of diabetes, the most prevalent, type 2, accounts for the majority of cases.

These statistics are a good reason to inform our community and make a positive difference during National Diabetes Awareness Month.

Diabetes is a problem with your body that causes blood glucose (sugar) levels to rise higher than normal. This is also called hyperglycemia.

Type 2 diabetes (T₂DM) is the most common form of diabetes.

If you have type 2 diabetes, your body does not use insulin properly. This is insulin resistance. At first, your pancreas makes extra insulin to compensate.

But over time, the pancreas isn't able to keep up and fails to make enough insulin to keep in your blood.

Previously, type 2 diabetes was known as "adult onset" or "not insulin dependent diabetes." But both of these terms are now obsolete for the following reasons:

With the rise in obesity rates, we now see type 2 diabetes in children. We also moved away from the term "not insulin dependent" as people with diabetes may need insulin to control blood sugar levels.

Insulin Resistance

Type 2 diabetes is characterized by insulin resistance, which oftentimes is created by excess body mass.

This is different from the other main type of diabetes, called Type 1, which is characterized by insulin deficiency due to an errant autoimmune process.

Some people have characteristics of both types. There are also other types of diabetes as well.

According to the CDC, one in every 10 people has diabetes. Chances are you or a loved one may already have diabetes, pre-diabetes, or is at risk for developing these conditions due to family history, ethnicity, race or body build.

Sounds grim? There is some good news, though.You can minimize your risk, return your pre-diabetic range blood sugar level to normal and prevent or control your diabetes.

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda provides specialized diabetes care. You are only a phone call away from improving your health.

Controlling Diabetes

Why is controlling your diabetes so important?

Diabetes is actually considered a risk factor for heart disease. And, like other forms of heart disease, if not controlled, diabetes can lead to heart attack, stroke and peripheral vascular disease.

In addition to these conditions, sustained high blood sugars or uncontrolled diabetes can also negatively impact the tiny blood vessels located in the retina of the eye -- impairing vision -- as well as in the kidneys -- impairing renal function.

By controlling the blood sugars, you can prevent the onset and progression of complications.

Controlling diabetes starts with achieving or maintaining a healthy body weight, accomplished with a well-balanced meal plan and daily exercise.

Tricare now covers pharmacologic support for weight loss as well as weight-loss surgery for qualifying patients.

For those who cannot control their diabetes with a regimented lifestyle, there are medications to help. In the 1980s, there were only two different types of oral medications (pills) and injectable insulin. Today, there are nine different types of medications.

Additional preventative measures include visiting an eye doctor for a dilated exam, having your feet examined by a qualified provider, keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol levels in control, and keeping up with routine laboratory procedures on a regular basis.

The American Diabetes Association also recommends periodic monitoring of your blood sugar level.

For Tricare beneficiaries, a blood glucose meter and supplies may be available with your provider's prescription.

So, don't wait! If you or your loved ones has diabetes, be sure to see a specialist at least once a year.

For more information on diabetes, visit the CDC website at cdc.gov or the American Diabetes Association website at diabetes.org, or call the Kimbrough Ambulatory Care Center Public Health Nurse at 301-677-8993.