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An estimated nine percent of Americans are living with diabetes — about 30 million people. It’s important to learn the facts about diabetes so you can stay healthy, from head to toe.

Know the types

Having diabetes means your body has trouble regulating glucose and does one of two things: it either doesn’t make enough of a hormone called insulin, or it doesn’t use insulin properly. Insulin is what helps sugar enter your body’s cells. Therefore, diabetes causes sugar to remain in your blood. Over time, high blood sugar can damage your body.

Your doctor can check your blood glucose level to find out whether it is normal.

The three most common types of diabetes are Type 1, Type 2, and gestational.

Type 1 diabetes – Less common and usually diagnosed in childhood. The pancreas doesn’t produce insulin, which means sugar can’t enter cells to provide energy and stays in your blood. People with Type 1 diabetes need regular insulin injections.

Type 2 diabetes – The most common type of diabetes happens when the pancreas does produce insulin, but your body cannot use the insulin in the right way.

Gestational diabetes – Occurs during pregnancy and typically resolves after pregnancy. Like other forms of diabetes, it affects how your body uses sugar, resulting in high blood glucose levels.

Risk factors

Type 1 diabetes is not preventable. However, Type 2 diabetes is often preventable and you’re more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes if you:

  • Are 45 years of age or older
  • Are African American, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, or Native American
  • Are overweight and/or physically inactive
  • Have a history of diabetes in your family
  • Have had a baby weighing more than nine pounds at birth
  • Have a history of gestational diabetes
  • Have high blood pressure, high triglycerides, and/or low HDL cholesterol
  • Have a history of polycystic ovarian syndrome, stroke, or heart disease

Symptoms head to toe

Not everyone with diabetes has symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they can include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Increased hunger and/or thirst
  • Weight loss
  • Increased urination
  • Cuts or sores on your hands and/or feet that don’t heal well

Living with diabetes

Early diagnosis of diabetes and pre-diabetes is important so patients can begin to manage the disease early and potentially prevent or delay serious complications that can decrease quality of life. Complications could include:

  • Eyes – Blindness, severe vision impairment
  • Heart Disease – stroke, heart attack, high blood pressure
  • Body – circulation problems in lower extremities, amputations after non-healing wounds, loss of feeling in upper and lower extremities, digestive problems, renal disease leading to dialysis

There is a lot of research in diabetes, but currently there is no cure. The most effective ways to manage diabetes are through lifestyle changes and forming new habits. Managing diabetes is a life-long process and can be challenging, but you’re not in it alone. Talk to your healthcare provider or a certified diabetes educator who can help you develop an individualized treatment plan as well as connect you with resources such as support groups.

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Cheryl Barclay, RN, is a certified diabetes educator with the Diabetes and Nutritional Care Center at UPMC Susquehanna, who is also a Type 1 diabetic. Source: UPMC Susquehanna