Do any of these symptoms sound familiar? You’re always tired, hungry and thirsty, go to the bathroom a lot, have cuts and bruises that are slow to heal and tingling or numbness in your hands or feet. All are warning signs of diabetes, a multisystem disease that affects some 16 million Americans, over one-third of whom don’t even know they have the disease. What’s more, another 16 to 20 million Americans have what is now called "prediabetes," a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not yet high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes.
November is National Diabetes Awareness Month and a good time to have your blood glucose levels checked, particularly if you have any of the above symptoms or are over 45, overweight, and/or have a brother, sister or parent who has diabetes.
Diabetes is a disease in which the body fails to properly convert sugars, starches and other foods into the energy needed to function properly. It comes in many forms. Type 1 diabetes develops suddenly due to an assault on the pancreas. In contrast, type 2 diabetes usually develops gradually as the body becomes more inefficient in the way it produces or uses insulin. A third type, gestational diabetes, develops during pregnancy, then seemingly disappears with the birth of the baby. Nearly 40 percent of these women, however, will develop type 2 diabetes at some point in their lives. If ignored, diabetes leads to life-threatening or debilitating complications such as heart and kidney disease, stroke, blindness and the loss of limbs. In fact, diabetes is the leading cause of heart disease and stroke, adult blindness, kidney failure and nontraumatic amputations. People with diabetes also are at higher risk of long-term complications from such common ailments as flu and bouts of foodborne illness.
However, there is good news. Knowing that you have prediabetes or diabetes gives you the opportunity to prevent or substantially delay the development of those long-term complications that lower
the quality and length of life. For example, in the landmark Diabetes Prevention Program Trials, a modest loss of 5 percent to 7 percent of body weight, along with regular exercise 30 minutes five times per week, lowered the risk of developing diabetes by up to 58 percent in subjects with prediabetes. Some study participants even returned their blood glucose levels to the normal range, effectively reversing their prediabetic conditions.
Because there is so much that can be done to prevent or slow the progression of diabetes, several agencies have joined forces this year in a new diabetes awareness campaign called "Take Time to Care …About Diabetes." The campaign specifically targets women, in part because they are often the primary caregivers in the family, but also because more women than men have diabetes and are hit harder by the complications. The campaign focuses on watching what you eat, exercising at least 30 minutes most days of the week, checking your blood sugar on a regular basis and using medications wisely.
For more information about diabetes or the campaign, call 1-800-DIABETES or check the Web at www.fda.gov/womens or www.diabetes.org.