Hundreds of thousands of Americans suffer from diabetes, which can lead to serious health complications. Another one in three adults have prediabetes. There are different types of diabetes, including type 1, where the body does not produce insulin, and type 2, where the body doesn’t use insulin properly. Prediabetes is when blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as diabetes. This is a concern for older adults because 24.2 million Americans aged 65 and older have prediabetes, and many don’t even know they have it.
What is Diabetes and What are the Symptoms?
Certain foods that we eat are converted into sugar, or glucose, to give us energy, and insulin is used to transport this glucose into our cells. Not having enough insulin or not being able to use it properly due to diabetes can cause a buildup of glucose in the blood and lead to other health problems, such as vision trouble, kidney failure, heart disease and nerve damage.
Adults and those with prediabetes are most likely to develop type 2 diabetes. The symptoms of type 2 diabetes include:
- Feeling tired
- Increased hunger or thirst
- Losing weight without trying
- Frequent urination
- Blurry vision
- Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
- Very dry skin
- Sores that are slow to heal
- More frequent infections
There are no clear signs of prediabetes, so it’s important to know the risk factors and have your blood sugar levels checked regularly. Risk factors include:
- Being age 45 and older
- Having African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, Asian American or Pacific Islander heritage
- Having a parent or sibling with diabetes
- Being overweight
- Lacking physical activity
- Having high blood pressure or cholesterol
- Having had diabetes during pregnancy, known as gestational diabetes
- Having had polycystic ovary syndrome
The good news is that prediabetes is reversible or can be prevented from progressing, and type 2 diabetes can often be properly managed.
Five Small Steps Can Make a Big Difference
November is National Diabetes Month, a time to bring awareness to the disease and how to control it. In honor of Diabetes Month, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) is encouraging everyone to take small steps to make a big difference in preventing diabetes.
1. Move More – Exercise is one of the keys to managing and preventing diabetes, but you don’t have to become a fitness guru. The NIDDK recommends 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week, but it’s OK to do what you can to start and gradually increase the time as you become more comfortable. Try taking a casual walk around the block or your local shopping mall or joining a Silver Sneakers program if you’re eligible.
2. Choose Healthier Foods and Drinks – Diet is another key factor in managing and preventing diabetes, but what to eat can be confusing. A study by the American Diabetes Association found that there is no magic diabetes diet. The organization’s Diabetes Plate Method proposes filling half your plate with non-starchy vegetables (that means no potatoes or squashes), a quarter with lean proteins and then limiting the last quarter to carbohydrates, such as breads and pastas. Click here to learn more.
3. Lose Weight and Keep it Off – Losing weight can often take your blood sugar levels back to normal and out of prediabetes range. It can also manage type 2 diabetes and keep it from getting worse. According to the NIDDK, losing 5% to 7% of your body weight—10 to 14 pounds for a 200 pound individual—can prevent or delay diabetes.
4. Seek Support from Your Doctor – As with diet, the American Diabetes Association says that there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for type 2 diabetes. It’s important to work with your doctor to ensure you are managing your condition as well as possible. And because diabetes can lead to other conditions, it may be necessary to seek additional treatment from other specialists. The NIDDK explains that people are more successful at managing their prediabetes if they have regular contact and support from trusted healthcare professionals.
5. Stay Up to Date on Vaccinations – Lastly, because of the higher risks of complications and severity of illness, the NIDDK recommends getting the COVID-19 vaccine and recommended boosters along with annual flu shots.
While many people with type 2 diabetes can manage the condition with the above steps alone, others require medication to properly control the disease, including drugs for related conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a statin to prevent heart disease.
People with type 1 diabetes require insulin injections, but that is not always the case for type 2 diabetics. There are several different types of drugs available to help manage type 2 diabetes, and the need for medication can change over time, so it’s important to have your doctor monitor your condition regularly and make adjustments as required.
Take the First Step
With November being National Diabetes Month, now is the time to take the first step in preventing or managing this disease. Then continue to follow the five small steps recommended by the National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, and you can be on the path to a healthier you!
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020). National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/data/statistics-report/index.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fdiabetes%2Fdata%2Fstatistics%2Fstatistics-report.html
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes Symptoms. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/symptoms.html
 American Diabetes Association. What Causes Diabetes? Find Out and Take Control. https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-risk
 American Diabetes Association. Eating Right Doesn’t Have to be Boring. https://www.diabetes.org/healthy-living/recipes-nutrition
S7694_21-6667_enewsletter 2021_C Reviewed 11/19/21
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