shutterstock_494860297_HVjZKHD.jpeg (shutterstock_494860297.webp)November is National Diabetes Month(opens in a new tab), a time for people around the world to bring attention and awareness to the condition. Diabetes is a complex condition with many misconceptions surrounding it. Living with diabetes is a difficult adjustment that requires lifestyle changes and more. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with diabetes, or you simply would like to know more, we’ve outlined four frequently asked questions and answered them for you.

  1. What is Diabetes?

    Diabetes(opens in a new tab) is a condition in which the body does not properly process food for use as energy. Most of the food that you eat is turned into sugar (glucose). When your blood sugar goes up, it signals to your pancreas to release insulin, which helps blood sugar enter your body’s cells for use as energy.

    When you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin, or doesn’t use the insulin it makes as well as it should. When there isn’t enough insulin, too much blood sugar remains in your bloodstream, which can lead to serious health problems like heart disease, kidney disease, and more.

    There are three main types of diabetes, such as:

    • Type 1 Diabetes - Type 1 diabetes is often diagnosed in children and teens, with symptoms developing quickly. Type 1 is thought to occur when the body’s immune system does not recognize the cells in the pancreas that make insulin (beta cells) and attacks and destroys these cells. If you have type 1 diabetes, you will need to take insulin every day to survive.
    • Type 2 Diabetes - When you have type 2 diabetes, your body doesn’t use insulin well and cannot keep blood sugar levels under control. Type 2 develops over the course of many years, and is the most common type of diabetes. Symptoms may not be obvious, so it is important to know if you have risk factors and be tested. Type 2 diabetes can be prevented and delayed with healthy lifestyle changes.
    • Gestational Diabetes - This type of diabetes can develop during pregnancy in women who don’t already have diabetes. It occurs when your body cannot make enough insulin during pregnancy. Since your body makes more hormones and undergoes other changes during pregnancy, these changes can cause your body’s cells to use insulin less effectively. After experiencing diabetes during pregnancy, you will be at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes, but there are steps you can take to prevent it.
  2. What Are the Symptoms of Diabetes?

    Type 1 and type 2 diabetes are the most common types, and their symptoms differ in a few ways. Type 1 diabetes symptoms can develop quite suddenly, and they often occur at a young age. People who have type 1 diabetes may experience nausea, vomiting, or stomach pains. Some type 1 diabetes symptoms are similar to that of other health conditions, so it is important to be tested immediately, as guessing could lead to more complications.

    The symptoms of type 2 diabetes often take years to develop, and some people don’t notice symptoms at all. Type 2 usually starts as an adult, but it is becoming more frequent in children due to rising childhood obesity rates(opens in a new tab).

    If you have type 2 diabetes, you may experience:

    • Frequent urination, often at night.
    • Excessive thirst and hunger.
    • Numb or tingling hands or feet.
    • Weight loss without trying.
    • Sores that heal slowly, or have more infections than usual.

    Because symptoms are not obvious, it is important to be aware of any risk factors you may have for developing type 2 diabetes. You may be at risk of developing type 2 diabetes if you:

    • Have a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes.
    • Are physically active less than 3 times a week.
    • Are overweight or have prediabetes.
    • Are 45 years or older.
    • Have ever had diabetes during pregnancy, or given birth to a baby that weighed more than 9 pounds.
    • Are African American, Hispanic / Latino American, American Indian, or Alaska Native.

    If you have any of the risk factors for type 2 diabetes, you should see your doctor about getting your blood sugar tested.

  3. How is Diabetes Diagnosed?

    Diabetes can be diagnosed in a few ways, all of which are relatively simple. There are a number of tests(opens in a new tab) that can be conducted to see if you have the condition, such as:

    • Blood Sugar Test - This can be a fasted blood sugar test, or a random blood sugar test.
      • In a fasted blood sugar test, a blood sample will be taken after an overnight fast. A fasting blood sugar level from 100 to 125 mg/dL (5.6 to 6.9 mmol/L) is considered prediabetes.
      • In a random blood sugar test, a blood sample will be taken at any random time. Regardless of when you last ate, a blood sugar level of 200 milligrams per deciliter suggests you may have diabetes.
    • Glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test - This blood test does not require fasting, and it indicates your blood sugar level for the past few months. It measures the percentage of blood sugar that is attached to hemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells). The higher your blood sugar levels, the more hemoglobin you will have with sugar attached.
    • Oral Glucose Tolerance Test - In this test, you fast overnight and your fasted blood sugar level is measured. Then, you drink a sugary liquid, and blood sugar levels are tested periodically for the next two hours.

    If you are at risk for diabetes, then you should reach out to your doctor to be tested.

  4. How Can I Prevent Type 2 Diabetes?

    Type 2 diabetes can be prevented with healthy lifestyle changes, like losing weight and getting more physically active. Even if you are at high risk, you can prevent developing type 2 diabetes. Some lifestyle changes that you could implement are:

    • Eating a healthy, balanced diet - Making changes to your nutrition can have a big impact on your risk for type 2 diabetes. Try cutting out sugary foods and refined carbs from your diet, as these can put you on the fast track for developing the condition. For instance, instead of drinking sodas and sugary drinks, make water your primary drink. You may also want to monitor your carb intake, as lower carb diets can promote weight loss and lower blood sugar levels.
    • Working out regularly - Engaging in physical activity regularly can reduce your risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Exercise increases the insulin sensitivity of your cells, so when you work out, less insulin is required to keep your blood sugar levels under control. Aerobic exercise, strength training, and high-intensity interval training are some types of physical activity that have been shown to reduce insulin resistance and blood sugar in overweight and prediabetic adults.
    • Losing weight - While not everyone who has type 2 diabetes is overweight, the majority are. Excess visceral fat promotes inflammation and insulin resistance, which can significantly increase your risk of diabetes. Losing even a small amount of weight can reduce this risk, and the more you lose, the more benefits you can reap.
    • Quitting smoking - Not only does smoking lead to a multitude of diseases and health conditions, but it is also linked to the risk of diabetes. Studies(opens in a new tab) have shown that smoking increases the risk by 44 to 60%. Further research(opens in a new tab) has also followed those who quit smoking and reduced their risk by 13% after 5 years, and after 20 years of not smoking, they had returned to the same risk level of a non-smoker.

This month, take notice of both you and your loved ones’ health. It is important to know the facts about diabetes, as it is an increasingly common disease. Living with diabetes can be very difficult, but it is manageable.

There are many things unknown about diabetes, but what is important to know is that type 2 diabetes can be prevented. As diabetes often affects people who are older in age, it can be difficult to take these preventative steps later in life. If your elderly loved one needs assistance in going to the doctor to be tested for diabetes or taking medication, Gallagher Home Care offers a variety of companionship and personal care services.

Gallagher Home Care is a Medicare-certified home health agency that serves across 8 Pennsylvania counties. Our employees are dedicated to providing exceptional, compassionate care to seniors while allowing them to keep their independence. We provide respite care, companion care, housekeeping, home safety monitoring, and even provide free in-home evaluations for new families. Request an appointment online or call (412) 453-8082 to learn more.