More than 17.9 million Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes, a lifetime illness that puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke.
Knowing your risk for diabetes could save your life. That’s because people with diabetes are more than twice as likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke.
Family history and obesity are the two biggest risks factors for developing Type 2 diabetes, according to David Odegaard, M.D., an endocrinologist with Alegent Health Clinic.
“If you have a lot of family members with Type 2 diabetes, then you have an increased risk for developing it,” said Dr. Odegaard. “Certainly obesity, or being overweight, also increases your risk.”
Diabetes is a lifelong chronic disease that makes it harder for the body to turn food into energy. High levels of blood sugar can damage blood vessels in the heart, kidneys, and eyes, as well as nerves in the feet.
Type 2, the most common form of diabetes, is usually found in adults age 40 and older. (Type 1, usually found in those under age 30, is treated by insulin shots and diet.)
Those diagnosed with pre-diabetes also have an added risk for developing the full-blown disease, said Dr. Odegaard.
“Pre-diabetes is kind of the middle of the road,” said Dr. Odegaard. “It’s not completely normal, but it’s not classified as diabetes. It means there is already some impairment that does not allow the body to process glucose properly.”
More than 17.9 million American children and adults have been diagnosed with diabetes, which can lead to heart disease and stroke, according to Randy Pritza, M.D., cardiologist with Alegent Health Clinic Heart and Vascular Specialists.
“Diabetics often have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which increases their risk for heart disease,” said Dr. Pritza. “If a diabetic person suffers a heart attack, they have twice the risk of having a second heart attack.”
Women with diabetes have three to five times the risk of heart disease, added Dr. Pritza.
The good news for most Americans – this is all fairly easy to avoid with few lifestyle changes.
“Obviously you can’t modify your family risk, but you can help to prevent the onset of diabetes by managing your weight,” said Dr. Odegaard. “We lead very busy lifestyles, and don’t necessarily take care of ourselves as well as we should.”
In fact, Type 2 diabetes is becoming an increasing problem due to the obesity epidemic, noted Dr. Odegaard.
“Until we, as a whole, decide to adopt healthier lifestyles, we’ll continue to see an increase in Type 2 diabetes in the United States,” he said.
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In some studies, even just a 7% loss of body weight can reduce the chance of progressing to diabetes, noted Dr. Odegaard. If you’re already overweight, he suggests consulting with a registered dietitian.
“I can suggest strategies for weight loss and a personalized meal plan,” said Toni Kuehneman, R.D., an Alegent Health cardiac dietitian. “It is important for a person with pre-diabetes or diabetes to learn to count their carbohydrate intake.”
Consistent carb intake throughout the day will help to keep blood glucose in the healthy range, she noted. Carbs are found in these food groups – fruits, starchy vegetables, grains, dairy and sweets.
A person with diabetes should know their ABCs – that’s “A” for taking the A1C blood test to monitor blood glucose, “B” for managing blood pressure and “C” for keeping cholesterol levels within a healthy range, said Kuehneman.
“It all works together - medications, counting carbohydrates and exercise – to manage blood glucose levels and weight,” she said.
It’s often hard to pinpoint Type 2 Diabetes symptoms, as you can have pre-diabetes or diabetes without knowing it. However, those with basic risk factors should take action, said Dr. Odegaard.
“Unfortunately, diabetes can be very insidious, and that’s why it’s important to know if you are at risk,” said Dr. Odegaard. “If you’ve got a family history or are overweight – go see your doctor so you can be screened.”