Did you know that six in 10 adults in the United States have at least one chronic disease? An estimated 40% of the US adult population even deal with two or more chronic diseases.
Chronic diseases are health conditions that persist for at least one year. Because of this, they require ongoing medical help. In many cases, they also interfere or limit a person’s daily living activities.
Heart disease is the leading chronic disease in the US, but diabetes is also becoming more common.
So, what is diabetes? Are there people more at risk of developing this chronic disease? What about treatment options?
We’ll answer all these questions in this guide, so be sure to keep reading!
What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic or long-term disease caused by high blood glucose or blood sugar levels. Blood glucose, in turn, is the body’s chief energy source converted from the food you eat.
For glucose to get converted into energy, it must first enter the cells. For this, the body relies on insulin, the hormone that makes the cells open up to allow glucose to enter. The pancreas, an organ situated in the abdomen, releases insulin into the bloodstream.
In some people with diabetes, their pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin. In other patients, a problem in the body results in the improper or ineffective use of this vital hormone.
Either way, diabetes renders the body unable to make full use of the consumed sugar. As a result, more blood sugar remains in the bloodstream. Left untreated, this can lead to other illnesses, such as heart and kidney disease and vision loss.
How Common Is Diabetes?
According to the CDC, a little more than 10% of the US population have diabetes. That equates to 34.2 million people, of which 26.8 million have diagnosed diabetes. The remaining ones have undiagnosed diabetes.
The CDC also reports that 88 million adults have prediabetes. People with prediabetes have higher-than-normal blood sugar levels. However, their blood glucose levels are not high enough to classify as diabetes.
What Are The Different Types Of Diabetes?
Type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes are the three primary types of diabetes. Of these, type 2 diabetes, or T2D, is the most common form of diabetes. However, all of them result from problems relating to the hormone insulin.
What Is Type 1 Diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes, also referred to as T1D, is often a result of an autoimmune disease. These conditions occur when the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells. There are over 100 known autoimmune diseases, and T1D is just one of them.
In the case of T1D, the immune system attacks the insulin-producing pancreatic cells. This then impairs the body’s ability to generate enough insulin.
What Is Type 2 Diabetes?
In the case of type 2 diabetes, the pancreas still produces and releases insulin. However, the body can’t use the hormone effectively, or the cells can’t respond to it properly. For this reason, T2D is also often referred to as “insulin resistance.”
Health experts are still unsure of what exactly causes T2D. However, researchers believe that lifestyle and weight factors may contribute to its development.
For example, as many as nine in 10 patients with T2D are overweight or have obesity. These weight factors, in turn, are common in people with sedentary lifestyles.
What About Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy. It affects up to an estimated 14% of all pregnancies in the US. Fortunately, it goes away after delivery in most cases.
However, it’s vital to maintain optimal blood sugar levels throughout the pregnancy. Otherwise, the excess sugar can affect the baby, too, making them grow extra-large. This can make it difficult for the mother to give birth and may require a Cesarean Section delivery.
What Are Common Diabetes Signs & Symptoms?
An unusual increase in thirst and urination is a common symptom in all three types of diabetes. It results from the kidneys having to work extra hard to filter the excess sugar in the bloodstream. The kidneys can pass the extracted sugar out of the body as pee, and in doing so, remove fluids from the tissues, too.
When that happens, you can end up feeling dehydrated, which, in turn, triggers your thirst. So, you drink more fluids to rehydrate your body, and as a result, you then have to urinate more.
Another common diabetes indicator is frequent bouts of hunger. This occurs because of the body’s ability to use glucose as a source of energy. This causes a lack of energy, which then prompts your body to become hungry.
What Treatment Options Are Available For Diabetes?
Patients with type 1 diabetes often require lifelong insulin administration. These usually take the form of prescription insulin pumps or injections.
As for type 2 diabetes, weight loss and anti-diabetic medications are often enough. Metformin, such as Glucophage and Fortamet, is the first-line medication treatment for T2D. Your doctor may also tell you to order Januvia, the branded name of sitagliptin, as part of your treatment.
Treating gestational diabetes always includes curating specialized meal plans. Doctors also recommend scheduled physical activity to maintain optimal blood glucose levels. In some cases, pregnant women may need to take insulin injections and metformin.
Healthy eating, maintaining a normal weight, and physical activity also help manage diabetes. Lean proteins, whole grains, and fresh fruits and veggies are a must. Exercising, in turn, helps you manage your weight and also boosts insulin sensitivity.
Don’t Let Diabetes Take Over Your Life
There you have it, the comprehensive guide answering the question, “What is diabetes?” Now, you know it’s a chronic condition that is highly manageable, even if it’s not curable. The most important thing is to seek your doctor’s help as soon as you notice its early symptoms.
The sooner your doctor can diagnose you, the sooner you can manage your condition.
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