Diabetes is a life-long disease that affects the way your body handles glucose, a kind of sugar, in your blood.
Most people with the condition have type 2. There are about 27 million people in the U.S. with it. Another 86 million have prediabetes: Their blood glucose is not normal, but not high enough to be diabetes yet.
Who Gets Type 2 Diabetes?
You’re most likely to get this disease if you:
- Have a family history of type 2 diabetes
- Had gestational diabetes or gave birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
- Have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Are African-American, Native American, Latino, or Pacific Islander
- Are overweight or obese, especially around the middle (belly fat)
- Have high cholesterol, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, and a high LDL cholesterol
- Don’t exercise
- Are older; people over age 45 are most likely to get it.
What Are the Symptoms?
Although most people with prediabetes have no symptoms, you might notice you’re extra thirsty, pee a lot more, or have blurred vision or extreme fatigue.
The symptoms of type 2 diabetes can be so mild you don’t notice them. In fact, about 8 million people who have it don’t know it.
- Being very thirsty
- Peeing a lot
- Blurry vision
- Being irritable
- Tingling or numbness in your hands or feet
- Feeling worn out
- Wounds that don’t heal
- Yeast infections that keep coming back
Getting a Diagnosis
Your doctor can test your blood for signs of diabetes. Usually doctors will test you on two different days to confirm the diagnosis. But if your blood glucose is very high or you have a lot of symptoms, one test may be all you need.
A1C: It’s like an average of your blood glucose over the past 2 or 3 months.
Fasting plasma glucose: This measures your blood sugar on an empty stomach. You won’t be able to eat or drink anything except water for 8 hours before the test.
Oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT): This checks your blood glucose before and 2 hours after you drink a sweet drink to see how your body handles the sugar.
Over time, high blood sugar can damage and cause problems with your:
- Heart and blood vessels
- Nerves, which can lead to trouble with digestion, the feeling in your feet, and your sexual response
- Wound healing
The best way to avoid these complications is to manage your diabetes well.
- Take your diabetes medications or insulin on time.
- Check your blood glucose.
- Eat right, and don’t skip meals.
- See your doctor regularly to check for early signs of trouble.
Risk Factors and Prevention
While certain things make getting diabetes more likely, they won’t give you the disease. But the more that apply to you, the higher your chances of getting it are.
Some things you can’t control.
- Age: 45 or older
- Family: A parent, sister, or brother with diabetes
- Ethnicity: African-American, Alaska Native, Native American, Asian-American, Hispanic or Latino, or Pacific Islander-American
Some things are related to your health and medical history. Your doctor may be able to help.
- Heart and blood vessel disease
- High blood pressure, even if it’s treated and under control
- Low HDL (“good”) cholesterol
- High triglycerides
- Being overweight or obese
- Having a baby that weighed more than 9 pounds
- Having gestational diabetes while you were pregnant
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Acanthosis nigricans, a skin condition with dark rashes around your neck or armpits
Other risk factors have to do with your daily habits and lifestyle. These are the ones you can really do something about.
- Getting little or no exercise
- Sleeping too little or too much
Because you can’t change what happened in the past, focus on what you can do now and going forward. Take medications and follow your doctor’s suggestions to be healthy. Simple changes at home can make a big difference, too.
Lose weight. Dropping just 7% to 10% of your weight can cut your risk of type 2 diabetes in half.
Get active. Moving muscles use insulin. Thirty minutes of brisk walking a day will cut your risk by almost a third.
Eat right. Avoid highly processed carbs, sugary drinks, and trans and saturated fats. Limit red and processed meats.
Quit smoking. Work with your doctor to avoid gaining weight, so you don’t create one problem by solving another.